Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los Angeles, California. Akunyili Crosby’s art negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds”.
In 2017, Akunyili Crosby was awarded the prestigious Genius Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Njideka Akunyili was born and raised in Enugu, Nigeria. She is of Igbo descent. One of six siblings. Akunyili Crosby’s father was a surgeon and her mother was a professor of pharmacology at the University of Nigeria.
In 1999, at the age of 16, she left home with her sister, Ijeoma, and moved to the United States. She spent a gap year studying for her SAT’s and taking American history classes before returning to Nigeria to serve a year of National Service.
After she completed her service, she returned to the United States to study in Philadelphia. She took her first oil painting class at the Community College of Philadelphia where her teacher Jeff Reed encouraged her to apply to Swarthmore College. She graduated Swarthmore College in 2004, where she studied art and biology as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow.
After graduating from Swarthmore in 2004, she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This is where she earned a post-baccalaureate certificate in 2006. She later attended the Yale University School of Art, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree.
She is married to Justin Crosby, who is also an artist. Their son, Jideora, was born in 2016. She has formed friendships and traded work with other artists such as Wangechi Mutu and Kehinde Wiley.
After graduating from Yale in 2011, Akunyili Crosby was selected as artist-in-residence at the highly regarded Studio Museum in Harlem, known for promoting and supporting emerging African artists. During this residency, she met her mentor, New-York based artist, Wangechi Mutu. She spent her year of residence experimenting with drawing, figure painting, studying contemporary art, postcolonial history and diasporic studies.
In 2015, Jamillah James, a former Studio Museum in Harlem curator and at the time, assistant curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, organised Akunyili Crosby’s first solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum. That same year, James organised another exhibition of Akunyili Crosby’s work at Art and Practice in Los Angeles.
In 2016, Akunyili Crosby was named Financial Times Woman of the Year. That same year, a solo exhibition of Akunyili Crosby’s work was held at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. In 2017, Akunyili Crosby won the MacArthur Fellowship Genius grant.
In 2018, Akunyili Crosby designed the mural that wrapped the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. The mural features her signature style of combining painting with collage, printmaking, and drawing to create intricate, layered scenes. She was the second artist to create a mural for the site under a new initiative by the museum.
By 2016, demand for Akunyili Crosby’s work, which she produces slowly, far outweighed supply, prompting her prices to soar at auction. She became one of the artists featured in Nathaniel Kahn’s 2018 documentary; The Price of Everything where she discusses her career and attitude to her art market. It culminated with her painting Drown being sold at Sotheby’s contemporary art auction in November 2016 for $900,000. Her first paining to come to market was ‘Untitled’ which sold for $93,000 in September 2016 at Sotheby’s New York.