Austin, Texas—In the fall, the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin welcomes Njideka Akunyili Crosby as a visiting professor in the Department of Art and Art History. In this role, Akunyili Crosby will visit the department three times during the 2020-21 academic year and spend time working with students in the Studio Unit.
Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based Akunyili Crosby is an internationally-recognized painter who draws upon historical, political and personal references to create densely layered figurative compositions that, precise in style, nonetheless conjure the complexity of contemporary experience. Akunyili Crosby was named a 2017 MacArthur Fellow and has exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, the National Portrait Gallery, Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
“In her thought-provoking work, Njideka Akunyili Crosby utilizes painting, montage and photography to address experience across multiple points of social identification including race and nationality,” said Professor Teresa Hubbard, Co-Area Head of Photography & Media. “We are thrilled that Akunyili Crosby will join the studio art faculty in the College of Fine Arts and look forward to her engagement with our students.”
Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria, where she lived until the age of 16. In 1999 she moved to the United States, where she has remained since, completing her undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College and her M.F.A. at Yale University. Her cultural identity combines strong attachments to the country of her birth and to her adopted home, a hybrid identity that is reflected in her work.
On initial impression, her work appears to focus on interiors, everyday scenes or social gatherings. Much of Akunyili Crosby's work features figures—images of family and friends—in scenarios derived from familiar domestic experiences: eating, drinking, watching TV. Rarely do they meet the viewer's gaze, but seem bound up in moments of intimacy or reflection that are left open to interpretation. Ambiguities of narrative and gesture are underscored by a second wave of imagery, only truly discernible in close proximity to the canvas. Vibrantly patterned photo-collage areas are created from images derived from Nigerian pop culture and politics, including pictures of pop stars, models and celebrities, as well as lawyers in white wigs and military dictators. Some of these images are from the artist's archive of personal snapshots, magazines and advertisements, while others are sourced from the Internet. These elements present a compelling visual metaphor for the layers of personal memory and cultural history that inform and heighten the experience of the present.
While the artist's formative years in Nigeria are a constant source of inspiration, Akunyili Crosby's deployment of references from Western art history disrupts easy interpretation. Religious art, the intimism of Edouard Vuillard's patterned interiors, the academic tradition of portraiture and, in particular, still life painting become vehicles for delivering, Trojan horse-like, new possible meanings.
Akunyili Crosby will be joining the studio art faculty, working with students across all studio art disciplines.
“As an active artist collected globally and with a thriving practice, Akunyili Crosby offers our students invaluable knowledge about the art market and building a sustainable career in the art world,” said College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster. “We’re grateful to Provost Maurie McInnis for her support in nurturing and strengthening our extraordinary faculty in the College of Fine Arts.”