MacArthur Fellows Program

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Painter | Class of 2017

Visualizing the complexities of globalization and transnational identity in works that layer paint, photographic imagery, prints, and collage elements.

Los Angeles, California
34 at time of award
Area of Focus
2-D Visual Art
Published October 11, 2017

About Njideka's Work

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a figurative painter whose large-scale works express the hybridity characteristic of transnational experience through choices of subject matter, materials, and techniques.

Born and raised in Nigeria but living now in the United States, Akunyili Crosby layers paint, fabric, and photographic source imagery that she transfers or collages onto her surfaces. She constructs scenes that often include figures, sometime family members, situated in domestic settings. Gleaned from family photos, cutouts from Nigerian newspapers and magazines, and commemorative cloth, the appropriated elements signal the works' engagement with the world beyond the here and now of the interior scene described—the world of events and history, both collective and personal. For example, in Nwantini (2012), the light and shadows that define the left arm and thigh of the recumbent male figure are the effect of carefully arranged photographic representations of a range of domestic, commercial, and historical scenes. Thus, the painting contains a density of references that convey meaning across multiple registers and speak to disparate times and places simultaneously. This layering also lends a ghostly quality to the pieces. In Super Blue Omo (2016), the legs of the seated female figure appear to be projected onto the work's surface. Many layers of materials from different sources overlay one another, with the final effect being that of an image that refuses to stay fixed, vacillating across different cultures and traditions. While her source imagery often references her African heritage, Akunyili Crosby's works also frequently depict her experiences living in the United States and the point of contact where cultures meet—for example, I Still Face You (2015) portrays her American-born husband seated at a table with her family.

In her explorations of the complexities of forging identity in a globalized society, Akunyili Crosby is developing an inventive yet accessible representational strategy for understanding culture and history from multiple viewpoints all at once.


Njideka Akunyili Crosby received a B.A. (2004) from Swarthmore College, a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate (2006) from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and an M.F.A. (2011) from Yale University. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Hammer Museum, and the Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach), among others. She has been a visiting instructor at the California Institute of the Arts (2015­–2016), the Maryland Institute College of Art (2012), and Swarthmore College (2011).

Select News Coverage of Njideka Akunyili Crosby
July 18, 2019
Art Exhibition to Honor 40th Anniversary of MacArthur Fellows Program
The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago will organize an exhibition in 2021 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows program.
November 2, 2017
"Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Painter in Her MacArthur Moment"
Los Angeles Times
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

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Please credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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