Njideka Akunyili Crosby

“The Beautyful Ones” Series #9, 2018

Published April 2020

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “The Beautyful Ones” Series #9, 2018. Acrylic, colored pencil, charcoal, transfers, and collage on paper. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner. The Douglas Tracy Smith and Dorothy Potter Smith Fund, 2019.29.1

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is known for portraits and interiors that blend her experience of a childhood in Nigeria and her current urban American life in Los Angeles. “The Beautyful Ones” Series #9 portrays three siblings in a domestic interior, based on a childhood photograph of one of her sister’s friends. The composition shows a living room area containing a stereo system, a television, books, and framed family photographs. The artist suggests lively cultural experiences in the dense pattern of images that cover the shelving unit and extends to the clothing and bodies of the children. On the shelf, a portrait of the artist with her three sisters and mother sits next to the television, which depicts a video still of the popular Eastern Nigerian musician Bright Chimezie. The inclusion of modern-style furniture and solid blocks of color represent the aesthetic of the artist’s life today.

Using a signature grid of images derived from old family photographs and popular Nigerian magazines (including fashion, music, sports, and Nollywood celebrities) the artist subverts positive and negative space. This practice serves as a metaphor for the complex merging of cultural backgrounds that contribute to Akunyili Crosby’s sense of self. The hybrid cultural information manifests in her work through intricate layering of different techniques and media, including painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, and collage. Dualities also feature prominently, communicating elements of past and present, representation and abstraction, dimensionality and flatness, tradition and popular culture, personal and public space, rural and urban environments, and African tradition, British colonialism, and contemporary American society.

Detail of “The Beautyful Ones” Series #9, 2018.

The focus of the series The Beautyful Ones is the depiction of children. Akunyili Crosby has stated, “I think of The Beautyful Ones as being the closest to conventional portraiture of all my works, in that they’re just someone standing, looking straight at you, almost as if to say: this is where I have come from, this is my history.” The artist often cites African literature (and its broken Nigerian-English language) in her work. The series title derives from Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah’s 1968 novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, a story of government corruption and violence. In response, Akunyili Crosby’s like-named series offers a hopeful future for her generation, those she sees as the “beautyful ones.”

This new acquisition is an important addition to the Wadsworth’s collection of contemporary art. Today, when many of us are spending increasing amounts of time in our homes, Akunyili Crosby’s portrayal of a domestic setting, woven with images of the people and things that bring it to life, has special resonance.