Celebrating Black Visual Artists: Njideka Akunyili Crosby

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Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Nigerian-born Los Angeleno Njideka Akunyili Crosby is an artist we can appreciate now, and continue to celebrate for many years to come. Born in 1983, Akunyili Crosby migrated to the U.S. at the age of 16. She earned her BA at Swarthmore College, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and her MFA at Yale University School of Art. Her art has been exhibited nationally in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Miami and Philadelphia. It has been exhibited internationally in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg and South Africa.

As with Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker, Akunyili Crosby has an unmistakable artistic signature. She combines collage, drawing, painting, photo transfer and printmaking to tell her stories. In a way, she’s obviously reminiscent of Romare Bearden but she is truly something else as she merges these artistic mediums in very deliberate and ordered ways which, to me, is so reflective and reverential of her Nigerian heritage. I’ve heard her work described as a marriage between her original and adopted cultures but there’s something about that description that falls short. Yes, she’s absorbed much but her roots are strong and present and proud.

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Efulefu: The Lost One, 2011

I’ve not seen a work from her that doesn’t remind me of a family get-together at Auntie Bea’s in San Diego, or time spent in Afikpo on Uncle Emmanuel’s balcony, or quiet moments alone in that studio in Long Beach across from the huge video store.

Akunyili Crosby’s work is so personal and so connective in that way and I could speak on my relationship with each piece, but for this blog I chose Efulefu: The Lost One, 2011. Akunyili Crosby often includes herself as the subject of her work for much of it is based on personal experiences and memories. In this one, she shares a dance with the man who will become her husband. He is “the lost one” as my husband explained to me.

In Igbo culture, an efulefu is that lost family member you may find on a distant shore. Though that person may differ in culture, language or age, they are at once familiar and dear. They see you. They understand you. They know you. Yes, Njideka, preach.

To learn more a out Njideka Akunyili Crosby and her work, click here.

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