Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Los Angeles-based artist who relocated from Nigeria to the USA when she was sixteen, intuitively draws on historical, political and personal references within her artwork. This amalgamation creates a landscape of highly vibrant and densely layered arrangements, whose elaborate surfaces unite a variety of materials and aesthetic traditions. The title of the exhibition, Portals, suggests the importance of openings into different worlds; in Crosby’s work, doors, windows and screens function as emotional points of arrival and departure, whilst on a wider scale, her work is a portal through which ideas on cultural identity flow back and forth.
In an astute fashion, Crosby addresses the idea of cultural intersections within a post-colonial nation; by giving a voice to Nigeria beyond the images of war, corruption and destruction, she humanises the daily life of its citizens. By operating outside the negative frame of reference, Crosby complicates the notions of identity in view of the homogenised vision that Euro-centric nations generally possess towards Africa. Alongside the politically motivated energy of the art, Crosby displays her highly personalised experience of her youth in Nigeria. She sources inspiration from personal snapshots, magazines and advertisements in order to fashion a detailed image. In doing so, Crosby sheds light on the complex nuances of post-colonial identity; by observing the polyvocal nature of culture, her works are ‘living and breathing’ entities which communicate across time and space.
Form and symbolism act as powerful functions within the parameters of the artist’s canvas; it demonstrates how an image can be a site of cultural messages that promote a particular ideology. In light of this, we are to decode and reconfigure our notions of ‘blackness’ within our journey of Crosby’s work. Her art is an entrance into cultural heritage, and how it feeds into contemporary life. Echoes of past British colonialism eerily reverberates around her subjects, amongst the common domestic necessities of the room. Vibrant vegetation is arranged around the space, flowing from the windows, which breaks down the distinctions between interior and exterior space. In this light, Crosby works within the liminal in-between zones of Homi K. Bhabha’s notion of ‘the third space’, wherein the mixing of cultural influences comes to a plateau.
The creation of engaging narratives is at the heart of Crosby’s skill as an artist; her subjects include herself, family and friends caught in quiet moments like having an afternoon tea, a prolonged hug or a slow dance. However, imagery from Nigeria’s revolutionary history, such as portraits of brutal dictators and other memories from her homeland also simmer beneath these seemingly tranquil moments. The careful assembling of scenes suggests a shrewd mind that skillfully encompasses intimacy and turbulent social history within a framed canvas.
To be able to create such a varied output in her visions of domesticity, Crosby gives life to the obscured elements of Nigerian culture. As she embellishes her vision with fabrics of richly symbolic collage elements, we are immersed in a complex artwork that recounts stories about transcultural identity and everyday life. Engagingly, Crosby’s exploration of the nature of social dislocation brings to surface the implications of identity formation within a complex system.