Los Angeles-based artist and 2017 MacArthur Genius Fellow Njideka Akunyili Crosby draws upon her experience of moving from Nigeria to the United States while maintaining ties to her family in Africa and building relationships in America. Layers of paint, fabric, and photographic transfers not only energize the interiors and figures depicted in the artist’s works but serve as a metaphor for the complex merging of cultural backgrounds that contribute to Akunyili Crosby’s sense of self.
Akunyili Crosby’s works incorporate signs of both Nigeria and the United States through the images of hairstyles, fashions, architecture, and furnishings taken from Nigerian magazines and commemorative fabric printed with portraits, giving her paintings a global context. For her FOCUS exhibition, the artist has created a series of visually and conceptually mirrored pairs of paintings. One juxtaposes a Nigerian interior with Akunyili Crosby’s Los Angeles home. In another, a Nigerian table setting is matched with an American example. The Nigerian image is centered around the trappings of afternoon tea, a custom brought to the country by its British colonizers that continues to incorporate European food products. The composition also includes a colorful plastic African “Clonette” or “DeiDei” doll of a Caucasian girl in Western dress and a Kris Okotie album cover inspired by Michael Jackson, both symbols of a popular culture shared internationally. The American counterpart to this still life offers a more troubling take on the interface of cultures. Embedded in the accoutrements of a Thanksgiving feast is a “blackamoor” serving dish, a disturbing decoration that trivializes the terrible history of African slavery in America. The exhibition’s two largest works isolate contemplative figures in architectural contexts that are alternately informed by Nigerian and American homes. In these detailed images, Akunyili Crosby augments paint with Nigerian portrait fabrics produced for ceremonies such as weddings, burials, and political campaigns. (The artist’s mother was a respected politician.) She also applies photographic transfers from Nigerian fashion and society publications that connect traditional Nigerian styles, fabrics manufactured in the Netherlands, and Western trends.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983, Enugu, Nigeria) moved to the United States in 1999. She earned a BA from Swarthmore College, a post-baccalaureate certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and an MFA in painting from Yale University School of Art. Her work has been the subject of in solo exhibitions at the Hammer Museum and Art + Practice, both in Los Angeles; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; and Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; and has been featured at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and Prospect.4 in New Orleans. Her work is in the collections of museums around the world. Awards include the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize from The Studio Museum in Harlem, James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Excellence in Painting from Yale University.
The exhibition is organized by The Baltimore Museum of Art.
The FOCUS series is organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and features three solo exhibitions each year. Started in 2005, this series is committed to introducing visitors to new and emerging artists that are gaining worldwide acclaim as well as exhibiting esteemed mid-career artists who have previously been under-recognized in the region. The exhibitions are fresh and dynamic, as the artists are intimately involved in the planning and often create new work for these presentations. The artists also engage in dialogue with Museum visitors and donors in small group conversations and in lectures for the public. The FOCUS series is international in scope and features work across all media. Throughout the program’s history, many FOCUS exhibitions have marked the artist’s first solo museum show.
The FOCUS series is organized by Associate Curator Alison Hearst. FOCUS exhibitions are open to the public and are included in general Museum admission.
Support for the 2018–2019 FOCUS exhibition series is generously provided by Frost Bank.