Inhabiting multiple spaces: Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s “Portals” at Victoria Miro Gallery, London

London-based gallery Victoria Miro holds the first European solo exhibition of artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

On display until 5 November 2016, “Portals” presents new work by artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, the 2016 winner of the Prix Canson, with luxurious scenes of everyday life layered with enduring references to Nigerian popular culture, the artist’s personal life and politics.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "Super Blue Omo", 2016, Acrylic, transfers,colored pencils, collage on paper 213.4 x 274.3 cm. Image courtesy of Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Super Blue Omo’, 2016, acrylic, transfers, colored pencils, collage on paper 213.4 x 274.3 cm. Image courtesy of Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

On 4 October 2016, the London-based Victoria Miro Gallery opened the first European solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based, Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Comprising a new body of work created especially for the gallery, “Portals”, as the title indicates, provides a viewpoint, if not a pathway, into the artist’s mind, life and creative process. The exhibition press release (PDF download) explains further:

It also refers to the title of a recent work by the artist, Portals, 2016, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. In Akunyili Crosby’s work, doors, windows and screens function as physical, conceptual and emotional points of arrival and departure, while in a broader sense the work itself is a portal through which mutable ideas about transcultural identity flow back and forth.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby 'See Through', 2016 Acrylic, transfers, colored pencils, charcoal, collage and commemorative fabric on paper, 155.4 x 132 cm, Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘See Through’, 2016, acrylic, transfers, colored pencils, charcoal, collage and commemorative fabric on paper, 155.4 x 132 cm. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Multimedia artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983, Enugu, Nigeria) is the recipient of numerous prizes, most recently the 2016 Prix Canson, the 2015 Next Generation Prize of New Museum of Contemporary Art, the 2015 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize and the 2014 Smithsonian American Art Museum’s James Dicke Contemporary Art Prize. Recent solo exhibitions include “I Refuse to be Invisible”, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (2016) and “The Beautyful Ones, Art + Practice”, Los Angeles (2015), staged concurrently with a solo presentation at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2015). Her work is in the collections of major institutions including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Tate Modern, Zeitz MOCAA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MOMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Installation view, "Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Portals" at Victoria Miro Gallery London. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Installation view, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Portals” at Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

At first sight, Akunyili Crosby’s works are very delicately composed scenes of everyday life. Her use of grays and blues impart a sense of cool and calm. Her work is immediately familiar, if not comforting, specifically because of what is depicted: a couple embracing, a living room, a kitchen counter, a table with a laptop sitting atop it are all the things that draw us in; however, as we approach to more closely inspect Akunyili Crosby’s work, the smallest details become the greatest revelations.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Installation view, "Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Portals" at Victoria Miro Gallery London. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Installation view, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Portals” at Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 'Mother and Child', 2016, Acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, collage and commemorative fabric on paper, 243.8 x 314.9 cm. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Mother and Child’, 2016, acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, collage and commemorative fabric on paper, 243.8 x 314.9 cm. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

The patterns on the walls and the floors, and on the garment of her subjects, as illustrated in Mother and Child, immediately connect us to Akunyili Crosby’s Nigerian upbringing, but also the course of her life. Her life’s path has taken her from her birth and upbringing in Nigeria to moving to the United States at age 16, through art school, her marriage and her professional career as an artist all of which are reflected in her work.

Akunyili Crosby’s work defies the single narrative, rather it invites you to consider where one story flows into the next one. These multiple elements are not in conflict, nor are they in competition. To the contrary, there is an aesthetic and conceptual equity in Akunyili Crosby’s oeuvre where patterns and lines and shape are as fluid as the stories contained within each work.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Installation view, "Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Portals" at Victoria Miro Gallery London. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Installation view, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Portals” at Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 'Ike Ya', 2016 Acrylic, transfers, colored pencils, and charcoal on paper 213.4 x 233.7 cm, Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Ike Ya’, 2016, acrylic, transfers, colored pencils, and charcoal on paper 213.4 x 233.7 cm. Image courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

As the artist revealed in a TateShots video,

In the characters I create, I try to create this individual that is multifaceted. So she might have a hairstyle that speaks to a very rural life. But then she might be wearing a dress that speaks to cosmopolitan life in Lagos, and she’s [in a] setting that speaks to high modern architecture in New York and then there’s an old school TV that is playing Nigerian news from the 1980s. So once people really begin to pull the space apart and what’s happening, there is this feeling of being unable to put either the character or the space in a clearly defined box because it doesn’t exist.

Negarra A. Kudumu

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Related topics: Nigerian artist, drawing, mixed mediagallery shows , London events

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