NCMA Recommends: Lines That Link Humanity

El Anatsui, Lines That Link Humanity, 2008, discarded aluminum and copper wire, (irregular) 18 x 25 ft., Gift of Barbara and Sam Wells

Lines That Link Humanity is constructed from recycled liquor bottle caps and newspaper printing plates that were folded, hammered, crushed, and stitched together by a team of artists in El Anatsui’s Nigerian studio. In his choice of materials, Anatsui calls to mind the illicit trade of human bodies for liquor during the transatlantic slave trade. The significance for him lies not in the ingenuity of recycling, but in the power of human touch and the interconnected histories, fates, and circumstances of people and cultures worldwide. Indeed, this unique work is “site responsive,” and each time it is moved or reinstalled, a new layer of history and memory is embedded within the aluminum itself.

In our present moment of isolation and social distancing, it’s perhaps ironic to feature a work that hinges on our global connectivity and that relies on the transformative potential of human touch. At the same time, it allows us a moment to slow down and consider how connected we all still are, and how much we rely on one another.

The Art of Installing Lines That Link Humanity

NCMA Conservator Perry Hurt loves collaborating with El Anatsui every time he rehangs this masterwork. Watch to learn the artist’s perspective on the changing nature of his wall sculptures.

Collaborative Community Project

Lines That Link Humanity, viewed up close, contains thousands of small pieces touched by countless human hands. from production, use, disposal, and back to creation anew. From a distance we see how all of those pieces are united to form a larger tapestry of colors to create a quiltlike artwork. In the spirit of celebrating our collective unity, we want to assemble the individual faces of our fellow North Carolinians into a mosaic of our own, as part of our way of holding together in community during this time of separation. Upload your most flattering, silliest, or most dramatic selfies (just make sure they’re appropriate for all audiences), and over the coming weeks we will use them to re-create a favorite from the Museum collection.

Global Connection

Learn about other African artists with Afripedia. Connect with artists from countries throughout Africa, and watch artists like Cyrus Kabiru who, like El Anatsui, creates art from recycled material, as well as Serge Attukwei Clottey, who makes art from plastic.

Audio Description

The recording below is an audio description of Lines That Link Humanity. Audio description is narration for individuals who are blind or have low vision. It is a means to inform them about visual content essential for comprehension.


The NCMA Offstage videos feature musicians from our annual summer concert series performing in unique locations around the Museum campus. This episode features Jake Shimabukuro playing “The Greatest Day” in front of Lines That Link Humanity before his 2018 concert with Kishi Bashi.

Poems That Link Humanity

Much like Anatsui bestows new meaning to common materials, poets across space and time offer new meaning to humble objects, emotions, and experiences. While many of these universal concepts underscore the hardships and challenges of the human condition, they also offer a sense of connection and interconnection, reminding us that we are not alone. Head to NCMALearn for the full list of poems and additional poetry activities for all ages.


These films evoke Lines That Link Humanity through interconnected histories and circumstances of people and cultures around the world.–Maria Lopez, Manager of Film and Lecture Programs

  – Waste Land (2010). Director: Lucy Walker. Artist Vik Muniz creates portraits from recycled materials of the catadores–garbage pickers–at the world’s largest landfill in Brazil. Rent on iTunes or Amazon Prime.

  – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019). Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor. For the whole family. Based on the true story of a boy who saves his Malawian village from famine by building a wind turbine with materials found in a scrapyard. Watch on Netflix.

  – Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui (2011). Director: Susan Vogel. This short documentary gives us a look into the artist’s practice. Buy DVD. Watch on Ovid.

  – Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1988). Director: Godfrey Reggio. This second installment of the Qatsi trilogy reveals how people move to a universal drumbeat through their work and traditions. Rent on iTunes.

  – Baraka (1992). Director: Ron Fricke. Shot in 25 countries, this film is what the director calls “a guided meditation on humanity.” Rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime, or YouTube.

Powerful Prose

– Fiction: Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi

– Nonfiction: El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa

– Online article: El Anatsui featured on ART21.

Family Activity

Click over NCMALearn for some family activities, like the loom-making activity below with North Carolina fiber artist Taylor McGee, and reading suggestions inspired by El Anatsui’s Lines That Link Humanity.–Courtney Klemens, Manager of Family Programs, Angie Faulk, Manager of Camps, and Emily Perreault, Pre-K Programs Educator

Coloring Page

Color your own Lines That Link Humanity using our printable PDF. Download it, print it, and then tag us in your creation on social media @ncartmuseum.

Art-Making Challenge

The NCMA Teen Arts Council invites you to respond to their challenge. Using whatever medium feels right (drawing, photography, collage, sculpture, painting, etc.), show us:

– What does it mean to be connected right now?

– Who keeps you connected? Consider the people working to keep us connected daily: health care, sanitation, and restaurant workers, first responders …

– Connection vs. connectivity: What does it mean to be “differently” connected to your friends and family?

Get inspired by @ma.ddalena, who drew this during a FaceTime conversation with friends. Then tag us @ncartmuseum so that we can share your work!

Educational Lesson Plan

How long did it take El Anatsui to create Lines That Link Humanity? Find out in the video below; then head to NCMALearn to find a lesson plan on textile weaving related to this work of art.

Mindful Museum: Well Wishes with Growga

In Lines That Link Humanity, El Anatsui reflects on the interconnection of our world and how all our lives are inextricably intertwined. In this loving kindness—inspired meditation practice presented by Growga, you can experience your connection to others, even from far away, and wish all other beings happiness, health, and safety. Suitable for ages 5 and up.–Bryanne Senor, Manager of Park Programs


Apr 17, 2020


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