Njideka Akunyili Crosby's work features in several major international exhibitions on view now and opening in 2019. Open through February 3, 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery in London, "The Beautyful Ones" features new works made specifically for this presentation as well as existing pieces from her ongoing series, which focuses on portraits of Nigerian youth. "In the characters I create I try to create this individual that is multifaceted," the artist explains in a TateShots video about her work, which draws on her own transcultural experience between Nigeria and the United States. "She might have a hairstyle that speaks to 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 or then there is an old school TV that’s playing old Nigerian news from the ’80s. So, once people really begin to pull the space apart and what’s happening, there is this feeling of being able to put either the character or the space in a clearly-defined box, because it doesn’t exist."
On December 1, Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Counterparts opens at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. Part of the museum’s FOCUS exhibition series, Counterparts presents pairs of paintings that juxtapose Nigerian and American subjects. In one work, for example, a domestic interior in Nigeria is seen next to that of Akunyili Crosby’s Los Angeles home, while another depicts table settings from each country; there are also self-portraits showing Akunyili Crosby herself in contrasting environments. These references to different contexts and the facets of identity they represent, is integral to her practice. "My work discusses the move between Enugu, where I grew up, and America, where I now live," the artist says in a 2013 interview with Elephant magazine; "It’s difficult, even impossible, to distill all these complex feelings into one composition. If I’m doing a painting set in a living room in Nigeria . . . I do my best to recall very specific things: snapshots within family albums, refreshments on the table, magazines that I saw lying around the house when I was young." Counterparts travels to Fort Worth from Baltimore Museum of Art, where it was on view from October 25, 2017–March 11, 2018.
November 2019 will see the opening of Interiorities: Leonor Antunes, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Henrike Naumann, Adriana Varejão at Haus der Kunst in Munich. Curated by Anna Schneider, the exhibition focuses on transnational identities that are at once fragmented and complex. In treating "interior painting" as a discursive space, the featured artists explore the imagination, as well as the interior as a real setting, a private retreat or shelter, or a site from which to address the socio-political context.
In 2020, Akunyili Crosby’s work will be shown in the third of a trilogy of solo exhibitions curated by Pulitzer Prize–winning author and critic Hilton Als at the Yale Center for British Art. Als, who included Akunyili Crosby in the 2015 group exhibition forces in nature, is drawn to her engagement with commerce, globalization, and fashion through the papering of bodies and scenes with printed imagery. "Under the layers of information," Als wrote in the accompanying publication, "human forms pulsate gracefully and gratefully with life and an understanding of how it’s lived in the modern, and in Akunyili Crosby’s intensely imagined, universe."
Not confined to the indoors, Akunyili Crosby’s work is also visible in murals and on billboards in London and Los Angeles. In LA, a mural covers the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue. Titled Obodo (Country/City/Town/Ancestral Village), the work springs from past paintings by the artist which have been transformed into a vinyl piece on a monumental scale. "Obodo is packed with imagery: self-portraits of the artist, common objects of her childhood, pixelated images that read like faded photo albums or scrapbooks, a commemorative textile that memorializes Crosby’s mother, Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili (1954–2014), as well as plants," Steven Nelson writes in ASAP/Journal. "Obodo", a word in the artist’s native Southeastern Nigerian language meaning "city," is invoked here to indicated not only Los Angeles, but also Lagos and the village where Akunyili Crosby was born. "Obodo’s images and its title point to fragmentation and multivalence," Nelson concludes, adding that the work "holds out the promise of both the retention of home and a connection to residence."
In London, the Hayward Gallery Billboard features the artist’s 2017 painting Dwell: Aso Ebi through February 2019, while Remain, Thriving, a commission for the city’s Art on the Underground program, is on view in Brixton tube station through March 2019. "This work is for people who grew up in Brixton,” Akunyili Crosby told The Londonist, referencing descendants of the Windrush Generation who moved from the Caribbean to Britain between 1948 and 1970; "I wanted the piece to be somewhat calming and quiet because it would be located in a bustling station, but I still wanted it to have all of the multi-century layers and stories of Brixton visible."
Currently on view at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, the group exhibition Sanguine: Luc Tuymans on Baroque features Akunyili Crosby’s painting When the Going is Smooth and Good (2017).
Image: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "The Beautyful Ones" Series #1c, 2014 (detail)