The Complicated Beauty of Njideka Akunyili Crosby
The rising art star that's helping to define a generation. By Ryan Steadman.
It’s rare when an exceptional artist connects with a burning zeitgeist. It happened a decade ago when Ai Weiwei emerged as a political tour de force in China by undermining his totalitarian regime with scathing rebukes via social media. Njideka Akunyili Crosby is also such an artist. But instead of raging against the machine like Mr. Weiwei, Ms. Crosby tells subtle, complicated stories about her homeland, herself and colonialism in a way that’s far less bombastic, yet just as powerful.
The 32-year-old Nigerian, who moved to Swarthmore, Pa., at age 16 after winning a green card lottery in her hometown of Enugu, is, like many around the world, part of the African diaspora. But the particulars of her story, a complex one that contradicts what we think we know about modern Africans, is what has truly moved her fans both in and outside of the art world.
She’s part of a growing Afropolitan contingency (a name sometimes used for Africans living around the globe) that is proving it has a much more nuanced view of African culture to offer us through their writing, music, and in Ms. Crosby’s case, painting.
Ms. Crosby’s artworks—luminous interiors teeming with eye-catching collage elements that offset delicately painted figures—while political, are very much about her day-to-day life. Her subjects include herself, family and friends caught in quiet moments like having afternoon tea, a prolonged hug or a slow dance. But imagery from Nigeria’s revolutionary history, portraits of brutal dictators and other remembrances from her homeland also stew within these constructed dramas, which evoke the lush quietude of the Post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard’s century-old domesticities.