Nigerian-American artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby investigates the intricacies of her hybrid identity within a globalised world through large-scale, multimedia paintings.Read More
Born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1983, Akunyili Crosby relocated to the United States in 1999. She attended Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, where she completed a double major in biology and studio art, later earning a post-baccalaureate certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2006. In 2011, Akunyili Crosby went on to receive an MFA from the Yale School of Art, followed by an honorary doctorate from Swarthmore College in 2019.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby's paintings combine a range of media, including marble dust, paint, collage, photographic transfer, pencil, and fabric. Working generally on paper, Akunyili Crosby melds these means of expression to create layered and nuanced scenes of everyday life—most often, groups of people in vibrantly patterned domestic settings. The artist frequently incorporates her friends and family in these domestic scenes, combining elements from both Nigeria and the United States.
While Njideka Akunyili Crosby's formal art training took place within Western institutions, she preserves the influence of her Nigerian childhood and heritage in her paintings in order to, in her words, 'invent a new visual language that represents my experience—which at times feels paradoxically fractured and whole—as a cosmopolitan Nigerian.' Recurring elements in her paintings include rice bowls, Ikea furniture, and kerosene lamps, along with imagery and patterns gathered from sources such as family photos, commemorative cloth, and Nigerian publications.
The friends and family that populate the artist's paintings usually face away from the viewer, engrossed in eating together, watching television, or other such everyday activities. Nigerian children, including her siblings in their youth, are present in Njideka Ankunyili Crosby's series 'The Beautyful Ones' (2014–ongoing), and her mother is present in many of her works, also. In Njideka Akunyili Crosby's Mother and Child (2016), for instance, the artist is seated upon a yellow sofa with her back to the viewer, while Dora Ankunyili—the artist's mother—is pictured in a frame on the wall, looking out while holding the artist as a child. The work commemorates the artist's mother, who fought the counterfeit of pharmaceuticals as head of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.
Though her paintings are largely populated by black and brown figures, Njideka Akunyili Crosby also regularly includes her husband—a white Texan—in her scenes. In I Still Face You (2015), he sits at a table with the artist's family. Inspired by the couple's first trip to Nigeria, the artist also features in the image. Significant cultural icons are frequently incorporated into the artist's works, emphasising the ways in which such images shape the foundations of even the most everyday experiences. In Ike ya (2016)—an intimate portrait of the artist and her husband in their home—the portraits of political figures and pop stars fill their shadows with culturally specific references.
Akunyili Crosby is the regular recipient of highly prestigious awards, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2017). Her work has been presented in major group exhibitions, including the 58th Venice Biennale; Radical Revisionists: Contemporary African Artists Confronting Past and Present at Moody Centre for the Arts, Houston (2020); and The Power Of My Hands, Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris (2020).
Influential institutions have mounted solo exhibitions of Crosby's work, such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby, curated by Hilton Als, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven (2020); Interiorities, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Beautyful Ones, National Portrait Gallery, London (2018); FOCUS: Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Counterparts, at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2018); Predecessors, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati (2018); I Refuse to be Invisible at Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida (2016); and Hammer Projects: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2015). She lives and works in Los Angeles.
Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2020