Beyond the Canvas
Njideka Akunyili Crosby's identity tales
A powerhouse. There is no other way to describe this extraordinary artist whose breakneck rise has seen her work displayed and celebrated at some of the major art venues globally (MOCA and Venice Biennale to name a couple).
Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983) is a child of the African diaspora. We see it in her vibrant work, which is imbued with personal and cultural references. Her large, unframed canvases tell stories about herself and her family, but they are equally filled with nods to Nigerian politics and pop culture. Her process is unique - she uses cut-outs from magazines and transfers them onto the canvas to create a sort of layered narrative 'upholstery'. Her intricate work is suspended between painting, printing and photography - it needs to be viewed from a distance to appreciate the complexity of the composition, but can only be fully understood if we look closely at the details of each individual snapshot.
In 2018, she was asked by Art on the Underground to create a mural for Brixton station, the area of South London where the Black Caribbean community settled in the late 1940s. Njideka approached the subject of the Windrush generation, which has now turned into a shameful page of British history, with care and respect. As a non-caribbean, but also as an immigrant herself, she wanted to do it justice. She spent 4 months in London doing research in the archives to make sure she had the knowledge required to produce a well-informed visual tribute. The result is "Remain, Thriving", a poignant contemporary conversation piece that depicts a group of people in a domestic setting. Akunyili Crosby paints them surrounded by objects new and old symbolising the connection between the past and the present, and the strength of their identity as they make a new life for themselves in the UK. In this urban art installation we recognise the same powerful sense of intimacy that runs through Njideka's body of work, a trademark of her ability to represent the merging of different cultures with all their complexities.
Lastly, I wanted to thank Brooklyn Rail for organising such a compelling and insightful talk, and not least for showing the art world how to do the zoom thing properly.
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Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "Remain, Thriving", 2018
My photo at Brixton Station, London