Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the Hammer

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Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "I Still Face You," 2015
Acrylic, charcoal, colored pencils, collage, and Xerox transfers on paper; 84 x 105 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London
Photo by Jason Wyche

Njideka Akunyili Crosby left her home in Lagos, Nigeria at age 16 to study medicine at the elite Swarthmore College, logical choice for the daughter of a surgeon and a pharmacist. Once she discovered the possibility of being an artist, her transition was swift and accomplished. In 2011, she received her graduate degree from Yale and has been featured in numerous exhibitions since including the current presentations at Hammer Projects and at their Leimert Park satellite space Art + Practice. Both shows were organized by Hammer assistant curator Jamillah James.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "And We Begin to Let Go," 2013
Acrylic, pastel, colored pencils, charcoal, marble dust, collage, and Xerox transfers on paper; 84 x 105 inches
Speyer Family Collection, New York
Photo by Jason Wyche

The African artist is married to a white American and lives in Los Angles, factors that can be seen in her complex studies of domestic life, still lives and portraits. The perspectives are tilted and torqued, as though reflecting the upheaval of joining two disparate cultures. Figures of men, women or children are outlined, their shapes partly filled in with broad areas of solid bright color. Other areas are covered with smaller images made of Xerox transfer prints from African magazines, newspapers, family photographs. She is literally embedding her original culture into her paintings, which are informed by her education, experience and present life in the United States.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "Tea Time in New Haven, Enugu," 2013
Acrylic, collage, colored pencils, charcoal, and Xerox transfers on paper; 84 x 111 inches
Private collection; courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York Photo by Jason Wyche

Especially evocative of her overlapping cultures is Tea Time in New Haven, Enugu (2013), her painting of a dining room where the ornamental wall paper of transfer prints spreads over the place mats on the table and two of the dining chairs. The white electric kettle, the loaf of Will of God bread, the plastic bottle of water, box of Wheetabix reference not only the comestibles of a West African nation that continue to reflect its history as part of the part of the United Kingdom but the homey aspect of what is missed when living far from a homeland as rich and provocative as Nigeria.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "The Beautyful Ones no. 4," 2015
Acrylic, pastel, colored pencils, and Xerox transfers on paper; 60 x 42 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London
Photo by Jason Wyche

At Art + Practice, in a series called The Beautyful Ones, there are three paintings on a single wall that stand as individual views but also operate as a triptych depicting the interior of a Nigerian home where men and women are gathered around a circular table, exotic green foliage blooms against a yellow wall in another panel, a small tv on a table and an aqua wall detail dominate a third panel. The transfer prints cover the floor and walls while the women are covered in patterns from African textiles. This is a work of such sophistication and layering of meanings that you understand at once why last year this artist was the first figurative painter to have been awarded the $25,000 James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize awarded by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And as of this week, she was given the Wein Prize of $50,000 by Harlem's Studio Museum. The exhibitions continue through January 10, 2016.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, : 5 Umezebi Street, New Haven, Enugu,: 2012
Acrylic, charcoal, pastel, color pencil, and transfer on paper; 84 x 105 inches
Collection of Craig Robins.
Image courtesy of the artist and Tilton Gallery, New York
Photo by Max Yawney