Currently on View in Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art (W305)
El Anatsui was born in Ghana and studied art there. He spent the second half of his life in Nigeria teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His art is influenced by cultures in both of these nations. The small areas of bright colors resemble fabric from Ghana called kente cloth. Kente is created in long strips and then sewn together. This is similar to the artist's method of assembling the narrow vertical boards. The repetitive curved lines in Sacred Comb are similar to designs found in textiles, body art and sculpture from southeast Nigeria.
El Anatsui uses a chainsaw and other modern techniques to cut the boards and mark their surfaces, creating rough edges and jagged textures. He uses a gas torch and hot irons to burn designs into the wood. The saw carves the boards and the fire smoothes the rough surface. El Anatsui equates the violence of the destruction of the wood and its regeneration with life in Africa during and after colonialism.
The artist incorporates traditional art forms in his work. For example, Sacred Comb is inspired by the hair combs from his homeland, Ghana.