Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Let me preface this blog by stating that I absolutely love this artist’s work.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a young artist, born in Nigeria in 1983, who came to the United States at age 16/17 and now lives in Los Angeles.
Her work reflects on the two cultures and is highly autobiographical. Many of the people portrayed are family members. Her practice uses a combination of painting, collage, drawing and printmaking. The language of image making is used in all of its variety with incredible power. Her canvases are made with acrylic paint, colored pencil, pastel, charcoal, fabric and print making in particular the use of transfers, a process used by Robert Rauschenberg among others.
The works are very idiosyncratic and highly recognizable, complex multilayered, materially dense works that some have compared to quilts. The images she transfers onto the canvas come from popular Nigerian culture often from the 80’s and 90’s. They are doorways to shared memories and inherited traditions. Traditions that have been hybridized or coopted through colonialism and globalization. The fabrics are often portrait or commemorative fabrics that speak to the history of her family and of Africa. Spaces are not closed but doors open onto rooms with other open doors, spaces are liminal, on both sides of a boundary or threshold and characters cannot be boxed into one culture be it socio-economic or country. Objects and spaces are layered one right on top of the other. Characters are built up. Nothing is static.
In an interview she gave to The White Review in 2016 Njideka Akunyili Crosby recounts how she first encountered Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’ (1991), which identifies ‘social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other’, during her studies at Yale University School of Art. The ‘contact zone’ has since become an underlying focus in the practice of the artist. “It involves a lot of appropriation and exchanging of ideas, and usually something new comes out of that. This really resonated with me, since I come from a country that is a contact zone – first, from being a British colony up until 1960, and then with American movies and pop culture coming into the country. You begin to see traditions that have become a weird mix of different cultures.”
Njideka Akunyili Crosby has an MFA from Yale and is represented by Victoria Miro. There is a wonderful artist talk on the Whitney website from March 2016.