Being a child of the hopeful 1960s, El Anatsui grew up in Ghana in a period typified by the profound search for social and personal identity, a search that has become a central theme through his art. He investigates the erosion of tradition as well as its survival and transmission into the future. Anatsui refers to a traditional African graphical system that is used to form patterns on African textile, where each symbol has a particular meaning. They often refer to abstract concepts of faith or courage, or are a reference to proverbs and aphorisms.
The artist communicates with memories and tradition to define his place as an individual in the here and now. Most of Anatsui's sculptures are made out of materials once designated for another purpose. Although individually humble, the discarded materials he uses become collectively monumental, just like our individual actions as consumers and communicators allow us to participate in a global community. The presented monumental work can be read from right to left. Whereas the artist integrates chaotic patterns on the right side, they become more and more structured and ordered towards the left. For Anatsui, this represents ‘the beginning and the end’.