Njideka Akunyili Crosby's intimate tableaus echo her transnational world
Njideka Akunyili Crosby's intimate tableaus echo her transnational world, in a new exhibition at Hammer Museum in Los Angeles
There is a school of thought – object-oriented ontology, or OOO – that sees humans and non-humans as equals. Looking at Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s portraits of people (including self-portraits with her husband), furniture and clothing, every element is treated with the same warm familiarity, wrapped in real and imagined details that narrate a personal and transnational history. Walls, carpet, tables, a bed – Akunyili Crosby’s inanimate portraits contain as much expression as the characters who inhabit them.
Akunyili Crosby is becoming a recognisable contributor to the global cultural landscape. Following numerous established art world honours in the last year (including the Smithsonian American Art Museum's James Dicke Contemporary Art Prize 2014 and selection for the New Museum Triennial in New York this year) the 32-year-old Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s huge mixed-media work is now the subject of a solo presentation at the Hammer Museum, with a concurrent exhibition at Art+Practice (running to 10 January and 21 November respectively). The Whitney has just announced that she will be the third artist to appear in its Outdoor Art Series, with an expanded billboard version of her painting Mama, Mummy and Mamma (2014).
Akunyili Crosby’s works – some 9ft tall – are intricate collages of painting, acetone transfer printing, and drawing that reflect a social, political and cultural patchwork. Tea Time in New Haven (2013), one of the artist’s earlier works on display at the museum, is an example of the young artist’s ability to capture the gestures of interior architecture, as a view into the private world.
Absent faces populate placemats, and are printed onto mugs, chairs and walls. On the table, everyday brands - Weetabix, Nescafé, Cadbury’s – give a sense of a familial meal. Jamillah James, who curated the exhibitions at the Hammer and Art + Practice, explains, 'It’s not a coincidence that the works are scaled so that they feel immersive; she does a marvellous job of presenting so much of herself in the work, but it feels relatable and approachable. She allows the audience to see into her life and world, but also allows for identification on the part of the viewer.'
Crosby’s interiors are much more than backdrops of daily, domestic life: they are spaces that convey intimacy, that carry their own imprints – both literal, enveloped in patterns cut carefully from magazines, advertisements and family photographs – and that act as a metaphor for a richly textured life, a home that is made up of many stories, cultures, and influences.
'Hammer Projects: Njideka Akunyili Crosby' runs until 10 January 2016. For more information, visit the Hammer Museum website
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Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.
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