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b. 1983, Nigeria

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Biography

Nigerian-American artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby investigates the intricacies of her hybrid identity within a globalised world through large-scale, multimedia paintings.

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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.

Biography by Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2020

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Featured Artworks

For Services – Victoria Regina by Njideka Akunyili Crosby contemporary artwork
Njideka Akunyili CrosbyFor Services – Victoria Regina, 2013Oil, acrylic and collage on canvas
61 x 50.8 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Super Blue Omo by Njideka Akunyili Crosby contemporary artwork
Njideka Akunyili CrosbySuper Blue Omo, 2016Acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, collage on paper
213.4 x 274.3 cm
Victoria Miro

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, I See You at Victoria Miro, Online Only, London
2 June–4 July 2020 Group Exhibition I See You Victoria MiroOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Rock My Soul at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road, London
2 October–2 November 2019 Group Exhibition Rock My Soul Victoria MiroWharf Road, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "The Beautyful Ones" at Victoria Miro, Venice
8 May–13 July 2019 Njideka Akunyili Crosby "The Beautyful Ones" Victoria MiroVenice

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong
Victoria Miro contemporary art gallery in Wharf Road, London, United Kingdom Victoria Miro London, Venice

Njideka Akunyili Crosby In Ocula Magazine

58th Venice Biennale: May You Live In Interesting Times Ocula Feature 58th Venice Biennale: May You Live In Interesting Times By Mohammad Salemy, Venice

Mohammad Salemy reviews the 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times (11 May–24 November 2019), where 'Lithuania demonstrated how it is possible to be both socially relevant while pulling off one of the most likeable national pavilions in recent memory.'

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Njideka Akunyili Crosby In Related Press

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The Art Newspaper's pick of the 2019 Venice Biennale Related Press The Art Newspaper's pick of the 2019 Venice Biennale 30 April 2019, The Art Newspaper

There are hundreds of exhibitions in Venice during the Biennale. Alongside the main exhibition in the Giardini and Arsenale, there are 90 national presentations, many in nearby pavilions in the Giardini and in spaces around the Arsenale, but also dotted throughout Venice. Then there are the official collateral exhibitions in museums and galleries...

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Lines of Influence: Centennial Exhibition Explores Jacob Lawrence’s Connections with Artists Past and Present Related Press Lines of Influence: Centennial Exhibition Explores Jacob Lawrence’s Connections with Artists Past and Present 30 January 2018, Culture Type

Sixty-five years ago, Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) made a painting about a Harlem card game, depicting four nattily dressed card players in the midst of a hand. Left to the devices of a lesser artist, an image of black people engaged in a game of cards could easily be dismissed as hackneyed at best. Executed by Lawrence, for whom the ordinary...

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Paintings That Manage to Focus Our Divided Attentions Related Press Paintings That Manage to Focus Our Divided Attentions 6 October 2017, Hyperallergic

We are saturated by media messaging. It stands to reason, then, that video and interdisciplinary art are popular contemporary art forms — the collage-like nature of those media match the constant barrage of imagery, advertising, and sensory inputs we receive on a daily basis. So where does that leave the hallowed medium of painting? How can...

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The best American art of 2016 Related Press The best American art of 2016 19 December 2016, The Guardian

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Norton Museum of Art No more play. If 2016 endures in American history as a year of epochal disaster, then it will be fair to ask, in the grim years to come: how on earth could artists have joked around so much while the darkness gathered? But in a year whose most debated exhibition came from a quartet of dim New York...

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