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Njideka Akunyili Crosby | De-Mystifying African Culture Through Art

Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1983 and moved to the US at age 16 to pursue a career in medicine. Little did she know that she would end up with a Master of Fine Arts from Yale, and skyrocketing auction sales.

Njideka is an important component in changing the artistic landscape of the western world. Her large-scale paintings of intimate family situations combined with obvious references to her African roots are becoming increasingly celebrated. So it would only be right for us at NBGA to highlight this artistic superstar even further. Keep reading to learn more about Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a favourite contemporary artist of ours.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby by Stefan Ruiz via W Magazine

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is one of the most influential artists of our time. Her paintings often depict normal scenes of family members casually interacting with each other in domestic settings. Her canvases are layered with images from Nigerian magazines, Nollywood films and her own, private photographs. The ongoing theme in much of her work is the concept of living in-between cultures and the clashes that that might entail. A large part of her life is shaped by the contrasts of her African family and white husband, of segregated America, and the cultural differences between the two continents she calls home. While this is a life story unique to Njideka, it is also a narrative that is relatable to all of us in today’s globalised cultural diaspora.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby layers her canvas with images from Nigerian magazines or Nollywood films and paints on top of them using a rather muted colour palette. Her technique combines the art of collaging together with naturalistic painting techniques. The result is an optical illusion that is easy on the eyes, while still full of narrative. It’s rare to see such an honest, vulnerable and intimate representation of family relations in a one-shot 2D depiction. While I experience Njideka’s art to be highly personal, it also feels very relatable.

 

There are obviously a million things one could say about Akunyili Crosby’s art, and what I appreciate about her work other than the very aesthetically pleasing colours, is her attempt to challenge the myth of what is “authentically African”. By depicting scenes from the perspective of an African and her African family, Njideka hopes to de-mystify African culture: “It’s hard to think people matter if you don’t feel connected to them. And so it’s about making that connection.”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby has become a breakout star at auctions, showcasing at the most prestigious biennales and institutions. Just a year ago, her pieces sold for around $100,000, then, last spring, her painting ‘The Beautiful Ones’ sold at Christie’s for more than $3 million. Although the art world still has a very long way to go, there is a clear ongoing trend of black artists shattering glass ceilings and breaking new ground. And by the looks of it, it’s far from just a “trend”. It’s the new standard. Njideka is here to stay, and reform the way through which we view our culture.

by Michelle Hallstrom