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Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Exploring different worlds is a common theme in the life and art offering new perspectives of Njideka Akunyili Crosby. The worlds include her birthplace of Nigeria and her newfound home of Los Angeles.

Her exploration began when she was young.  Njideka Akunyili Crosby grew up with six siblings, a father who was a surgeon, and a mother who was a pharmacist and a professor of pharmacology.  The future creator of art offering new perspectives left home at the age of sixteen and moved to the United States.  During this time, she studied for the SAT and took American history courses before returning to Nigeria to serve in the National Youth Service Corps.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
“Drown” by Njideka Akunyili Crosby

After completing her service, she returned to the United States to study at Swarthmore College and earned an undergraduate degree. She then studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the Yale University School of Art, earning a baccalaureate certificate and a master of fine arts (MFA) degree.  Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s art offering new perspectives has appeared in many places, including a mural that wrapped around MOCA Grand Avenue, part of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, California.

Success and Art Offering New Perspectives

The exhibitions illustrate Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s professional success, success also highlighted by her winning a MacArthur Fellow in 2017. Commonly known as a genius grant, the MacArthur Foundation states that it grants this award “to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Her paintings demonstrate her originality and dedication, often depicting subjects such as nature, interior rooms, couples, families, and friends. While the subject matter may appear familiar, the maker of art offering new perspectives creates more unexpected backgrounds, since she often creates collages with different pictures and materials.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Super Blue Omo, 2016. Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida. Purchase acquired through the generosity of Jim and Irene Karp, 2016. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby, courtesy Victoria Miro

Such art offering new perspectives gives her paintings a unique quality and document the artist’s different worlds.  Njideka Akunyili Crosby incorporates items from her African heritage and culture into her art offering new perspectives, such as fabric with pictures of her relatives and images from Nigerian popular culture. The items and materials combine the uniqueness of the artist’s vision with the seeming simplicity of her subjects.

At first glance, the people in Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s paintings appear to be doing nothing, but their inactivity is a statement about larger matters. The artist creating art offering new perspectives believes that in the midst of chaos, poverty, and epidemics, everyone is trying to live their everyday lives, despite the turmoil around them.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
“Mother and Child,” acrylic, transfers, colored pencil, collage, and commemorative fabric on paper, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2016

To illustrate this point, she discussed a short story by a writer she admires, Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, a woman who moved from Nigeria to the United States much like herself.  In one of her stories, Ngozi Adichie depicted a character who wrote about sexual harassment. The character’s teacher responded to this discussion of harassment by asking her student to write about an authentic African experience.

“Well, what is authentic,” said Njideka Akunyili Crosby about the story. “You think we don’t have these issues in Nigeria too?” The maker of this art offering new perspectives said that she is trying to explain how all cultures all across the world face the same issues and problems. Issues and problems are not confined to a single country or culture.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s Personal History and Further Success

Before she died in 2014, Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s mother, Dora Akunyili, was scheduled to have surgery. Before her surgery, her mother discovered that her doctors had misdiagnosed her. She had received money to pay for the operation from an insurance fund. When she learned about her misdiagnosis, she returned all of the money.

This story became very popular in Nigeria. So popular, in fact, that Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo asked Dora Akunyili to lead Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control because of her professional experience and integrity. She later became the minister of information for the country. Dora Akunyili’s story brought prominence to herself and the rest of her family.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Akunyili Crosby’s I Still Face You was inspired by her now-husband’s first visit to Nigeria.

Her daughter’s life thus has two different sides. In one, Njideka Akunyili Crosby visits her birthplace and everyone knows her name. In the other, she can live in the United States more anonymously and avoid public attraction, although the MacArthur Fellow and additional exposure may change that.

As a sign of her growing artistic prominence, her art offering new perspectives have appeared in different museums, including the Yale University Art Gallery, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Njideka Akunyili Crosby has also received awards and recognition, including an award as one the Financial Times women of the year, an Distinguished Alumni Award from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize awarded by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.ANjideka Akunyili Crosbydonated money to the Yale University Art Gallery because she felt that the university nurtured her and she grew as an artist during her time there. It appears that the university and other places, people, and experiences help Njideka Akunyili Crosby explore and depict different worlds. By addressing different worlds and assumptions, her art offering new perspectives, in turn, may nurture the creativity and curiosity of others.

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Lifetime Michigander born and raised. Currently full time content writer for Sunshine Behavioral Health.


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