Njideka Akunyili Crosby Showcases Artistic Works In LA
To truly grasp the essence of Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s meticulous and deliberate approach, as well as the significance of her exhibition at David Zwirner’s inaugural Los Angeles gallery on May 23, one must listen to her discuss her extensive research on the scientific classification of plants for her paintings, such as “Madagascar Jasmine” or “Safari Sunset.”
During a recent conversation at her studio in East Los Angeles, the 40-year-old artist shared insights into the process behind her self-portrait titled “Still You Bloom in This Land of No Gardens.” In the artwork, she is depicted wearing patterned pants, holding her youngest child on a porch surrounded by abundant greenery. Akunyili Crosby explained the challenge of striking the right balance in obscuring and revealing certain elements within the painting. The pants had to be visible enough to make sense of the composition while not overpowering the overall piece.
To achieve the desired effect, she dedicated hours to examining images of plants and animals from Nigeria and Los Angeles, exploring local plant stores, and immersing herself in the vast botanical gardens of the Huntington art museum. She even embarked on a quest to find a specific leaf during her visit.
Akunyili Crosby acknowledged that her creative process has become gradually slower, devoting more time to acquire the necessary elements for her work. Delays in the gallery’s construction due to excessive rain and bureaucratic obstacles provided her with additional time to refine her art.
David Zwirner, the gallery’s founder, expressed his belief that the wait for Crosby’s work in the exhibition, titled “Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Coming Back to See Through, Again,” was worthwhile. He praised her ability to establish a unique artistic language and iconography within contemporary visual culture.
Crosby’s art encompasses various techniques, including drawing, painting, collage, and printmaking. Her work synthesizes Nigerian and American cultures, blending visual symbols, historical references, and personal memories in a manner resembling scrapbooks or patchwork quilts.
Observing a Crosby painting reveals layers of her past, including printed fabrics, furniture or fashion articles, family members, book titles, and architectural elements. Many recognizable elements resonate with fellow Nigerians, such as a “Senator suit,” cabin biscuits, jerrycans, painted teakettles, braided hairstyles, and clonette dolls. She also incorporates references to the British Empire, American pop culture, and Roman Catholicism.
Crosby diligently plans each painting by making lists of desired elements before commencing the creative process. Her works often feature bars on windows reminiscent of her childhood home in Nigeria, her wedding dress, or illustrations from elementary school textbooks.
The artist’s favourite part of the process is the careful contemplation of her paintings. She compares her studio to a laboratory, where she can experiment, cook, and bring her envisioned pieces to life. Crosby’s deliberate pace is well-known, and she emphasizes that no external pressure can accelerate her work. Taking her time is crucial, as her interest in a piece diminishes once it is completed. She adamantly refuses to rush through her artistic process.
Crosby’s collaboration with David Zwirner represents a significant achievement for both parties. Her work is already held by prestigious institutions like the Met, Tate, and Whitney Museum of American Art, and her paintings reached high auction prices, exceeding $4.7 million last fall.
Critics and curators recognize the captivating nature of Crosby’s art, which combines personal narratives, cultural understanding, and transatlantic elements. Her work explores themes of generational families, migration, and the continuous connection to Africa while residing in the United States.
Born in 1983 in Enugu, Nigeria, Akunyili Crosby grew up in a family where her father was a renowned surgeon, and her mother served as the director-general of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. At the age of 16, she left her home country and pursued her studies at Swarthmore College, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Yale University, where she encountered influential artists like Kerry James Marshall and Catherine Murphy.
Akunyili Crosby’s time as an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem proved crucial for her artistic development. The provided studio space allowed her to maintain the momentum gained during her graduate studies and continue her artistic exploration.
Throughout her career, Akunyili Crosby has exhibited her work internationally and received accolades such as the MacArthur “genius” award in 2017. Her ability to intertwine narrative, biography, and history has made space for other artists to thrive.
In conclusion, Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s meticulous approach, cultural synthesis, and deliberate pace have established her as a prominent figure in the art world. Her upcoming exhibition at David Zwirner’s gallery represents a significant milestone in her career, showcasing her unique artistic language and captivating visual narratives.