Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Thread, 2012
Cassava Garden, 2015
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Trained as a biologist and informed by art historical and literary sources, Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby creates complex, multi-layered works that combine drawing, painting, and collage on paper as well as a variety of styles. Her large-scale figurative compositions are drawn from the artist’s personal memory and experience. They are tender, quiet sketches of home life in culturally ambiguous spaces (between Africa and the West, between Nigeria and the United States), capturing a very elusive sense of belonging that is really neither here nor there. Domestic life seems to be invested with a distinct geopolitical character, inviting the viewer to witness and partake in these intimate moments that are reminiscent of Nigerian postcolonial life (as described, for example, in the novels of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).

Akunyili Crosby uses the visual language of classical Western painting, while drawing upon the compositional structure and iconography of African photographers like Malinese Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, and South African photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko. Her impressive paper works combine flat geometrical shapes with the rich volumes traditionally associated with Renaissance paintings. They hang like tapestries, in which earthly tones alternate with the bright colours of contemporary urban culture, while invoking a strong sense of the cinematic. In Thread, even the body becomes a canvas, a screen on which historical images are projected. Akunyili Crosby mixes styles to create a global sampling that gives form to a contemporary projection of ordinary, domestic life.