Njideka Akunyili Crosby


Drawing on art historical, political and personal references, Njideka Akunyili Crosby creates densely layered figurative compositions that, precise in style, nonetheless conjure the complexity of contemporary experience. Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria, where she lived until the age of sixteen. In 1999 she moved to the United States, where she has remained since that time. Her cultural identity combines strong attachments to the country of her birth and to her adopted home, a hybrid identity that is reflected in her work. 

On initial impression her work appears to focus on interiors or apparently everyday scenes and social gatherings. Many of Akunyili Crosby's images feature figures - images of family and friends - in scenarios derived from familiar domestic experiences: eating, drinking, watching TV. Rarely do they meet the viewer's gaze but seem bound up in moments of intimacy or reflection that are left open to interpretation. Ambiguities of narrative and gesture are underscored by a second wave of imagery, only truly discernible close-up. Vibrantly patterned photo-collage areas are created from images derived from Nigerian pop culture and politics, including pictures of pop stars, models and celebrities, as well as lawyers in white wigs and military dictators. Some of these images are from the artist's archive of personal snapshots, magazines and advertisements, while others are sourced from the internet. These elements present a compelling visual metaphor for the layers of personal memory and cultural history that inform and heighten the experience of the present.

While the artist's formative years in Nigeria are a constant source of inspiration, Akunyili Crosby's grounding in Western art history adds further layers of reference. Religious art, the intimism of Edouard Vuillard's intoxicatingly patterned interiors, the academic tradition of portraiture and, in particular, still life painting become vehicles for delivering, Trojan horse-like, new possible meanings.

These are images necessarily complicated in order to counter generalisations about African or diasporic experience. Talking about her work, Akunyili Crosby notes, 'In much the same way that inhabitants of formerly colonised countries select and invent from cultural features transmitted to them by the dominant or metropolitan colonisers, I extrapolate from my training in Western painting to invent a new visual language that represents my experience - which at times feels paradoxically fractured and whole - as a cosmopolitan Nigerian.'