Profile: Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los Angeles, California.  Akunyili Crosby’s art “negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds”.

Early Life

Njideka Akunyili was born in 1983 and raised in Enugu, Nigeria.  She is of Igbo descent. One of six siblings, Akunyili Crosby’s father was a surgeon and her mother was a professor of pharmacology at the University of Nigeria.  She moved to Lagos when she was ten years old to attend the secondary school Queen’s College (QC) Yaba, Lagos. Her mother won the U.S. green card lottery for the family enabling Akunyili Crosby and her siblings to study abroad.

Two years later, at the age of 16, she left home with her sister, Ijeoma, and moved to the United States. She spent a year studying for her SAT’s and taking American history classes before returning to Nigeria to serve a year of National Service. After she completed her service, she returned to the United States to study in Philadelphia. She graduated Swarthmore College in 2004, where she studied art and biology as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. She was at first getting pre-medical requirements to pursue a career in medicine before deciding to pursue art.  After graduating in 2004, she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This is where she earned a post-baccalaureate certificate in 2006. She later attended the Yale University School of Art, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree.

 

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Career

After graduating from Yale in 2011, Akunyili Crosby was selected as artist-in-residence at the highly regarded Studio Museum in Harlem, known for promoting and supporting emerging African artists. During this residency she met her mentor, New-York based artist, Wangechi Mutu. She spent her year of residence experimenting with drawing, figure painting, studying contemporary art, postcolonial history and diasporic studies.

In 2015, Jamillah James, a former Studio Museum in Harlem curator and at the time, assistant curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, organized Akunyili Crosby’s first solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum.  That same year, James organized another exhibition of Akunyili Crosby’s work at Art and Practice in Los Angeles.

Also, in 2016, Akunyili Crosby was named Financial Times Woman of the Year.

In 2016, a solo exhibition of Akunyili Crosby’s work was held at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 2017 Akunyili Crosby won the MacArthur Fellowship Genius grant.

In 2018 Akunyili Crosby designed the mural that wrapped the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. The mural features her characteristic style of combining painting with collage, printmaking, and drawing to create intricate, layered scenes. She was the second artist to create a mural for the site under a new initiative by the museum.

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