Recent work of Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34, painter and 2017 MacArthur Fellow, is currently on exhibit at Baltimore’s Museum of Art (MFA).
Born in Enugu, Nigeria, the daughter of a pharmacist and a doctor, Crosby studied at Queens College in Lagos.
Crosby, since arriving in the United States, has studied at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Yale University School of Art, New Haven. She was artist in residence at both the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Bronx Museum AIM. In 2012, Crosby was a visiting instructor at Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore.
Crosby’s six pieces of work dominate the contemporary wing at the MFA. The shortest pieces are six feet tall. The pieces bring the visitor into Akunyili Crosby’s dual identities. Titled “Counterparts,” like a polyptych, the works hinge on left and right: the United States and Nigeria, new and old, but both ideas of ‘home.”
The central pieces are two self portraits. The images then push into more and more isolated aspects of the artist’s two lives. Out from center, the pairs are titled “Dwell,” “Home” and “As We See You.”
Elements from one piece, appear in the complementary pieces in new positions and new contexts. They read like the heightened reality of a dream, like the consolidation of someone else’s memories playing out in real time.
Some things seem simple. Crosby’s self portraits pose her selves back-to-back. In one she sits for tea alone in Nigeria with metal kettle and ceramic mug. In another, she sits in California with her dog. In the backgrounds of both fronds of tropical plants fill the panes.
Other elements are more subtle. A recurring motif from other pieces, a live television, broadcasts a Connery-era James Bond. Behind him, just in frame, is a blackamoor statue. Longtime symbols of colonial chic, the figurines most often portray Black males as servers and footmen, bedecked in gold and other finery. The statue reappears at the opposite end of the exhibit in the still life of the very real Texas home of her husband’s family.
In “As We See You: Embarrassment of Riches” shirtless blackamoor miniatures offer dessert morsels on broad leaf trays. Many things seem left behind in the trip from Nigeria to Texas, but naked colonialism lies waiting in plain sight.
The BMA negotiated the exhibition years before Crosby was named a MacArthur Fellowship winner earlier this year and this is the first place where the new work can be seen. “Counterparts” will be on exhibit until March 18, 2018.