Art That Reminds this Diasporan of Home

Embracing Cultures through Collages

In this age of easier and more accessible travel, dual nationality is becoming more and more commonplace and experiencing two different cultures while honing her skills has had an affect on this artists work. Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a visual artist born in Nigeria and now living and working in Los Angeles, California. At the age of 16, she moved to the USA where she studied biology and studio art at Swarthmore College and earned her Master of Fine Arts from Yale.

After she got her MFA, she was selected as artist-in-residence at the highly Studio Museum in Harlem where she spent the year dabbling in drawing, figure painting, studying contemporary art, postcolonial history, and diasporic studies. Akunyili Crosby’s work has been exhibited in many places around the world such as Victoria Miro, Venice, Italy, the National Portrait Gallery, London, and The Baltimore Museum of Art, USA to name a few.

Her style can be described as photo-collage paintings. Her use of photos and magazine clippings coupled with her skilled painting creates eye-catching and unique work that compels us to take a closer look at the image. Her paintings often feature herself, her family, and friends as the subjects relaxing or embracing in their homes and other private spaces, explore cultural hybridity through a mixture of references. Her works include a lot of pop culture imagery that is instantly recognisable to African people and a bit of western style. The collage aspect of her paintings mostly come from magazine ads, fashion and lifestyle pictures, and photos she buys from her family photographer.

She combines her strong connection to the country of her birth - Nigeria and her attachment to her adopted home in America in her work. Her work can’t be categorised as either American nor Nigerian, but rather an autobiography based on her and her experiences. Akunyili Crosby typically spends around three months on her works, assembling it painstakingly image by image. Her work is appealing to both Westerners and Africans alike, especially to those in the diaspora. Akunyili Crosby manages to combine influences from her heritage and chosen home so seamlessly. Her portrayal of everyday Nigerians in everyday scenarios is very different from the stereotypical portrayals of struggle in Nigeria we are constantly shown by the media.

“Super Blue Omo” depicts a woman watching TV and relaxing on the couch in comfy clothes and a silk bonnet. On closer inspection, the background includes lots of portrait photos, most of which seem to be either professionally shot or from a magazine cover. Even on the mugs, a picture of a couple can be seen printed on them. This may be a depiction of her and her husband, as she frequently gives us snippets of her marriage in her paintings. The cool colours of the painting coupled with the relaxed demeanour of the woman make this a very serene painting to look at.

Nwantinti, 2012 "Thread", 2012 , "I Always Face You, Even When It Seems Otherwise",2012

On the topic of her husband, Njideka Akunyili Crosby is in an interracial relationship. With her husband being white, she has said that she felt a bit of stigma, sometimes others made her feel like she is turning her back on her own people. However, she frequently and proudly displays their devotion to each other in her work, having painted many pictures of them resting, enjoying outings and generally being affectionate towards one another. She told W Magazine: “I wanted to make clear in the work that I love Nigeria, I love my husband. I don’t have to choose.”

Her most recent solo exhibition “The Beautyful Ones” comprises of portraits of Nigerian youths, some of whom are her relatives, each one of them looking right back at the viewer as if both the subject of the painting and the onlooker are mutually observing each other.

Usually, the subjects of her portraits are not looking at the front, instead, they are relaxing or focusing on whatever activity they are doing. This collection of paintings is very different as all of the children are staring right at the viewer as if both the subject of the painting and the viewer are both serving each other. Most of the children seem posed for the picture, which gives the paintings a slightly humorous sense as we can imagine a child impatiently tolerating photo to be taken, standing there to appease their enthusiastic aunty so that they can go back to doing something more interesting.

Follow Victoria on her Instagram @vicktoriyahsponge