The Ascension of a Nigerian Art Sensation
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, daughter of the late Prof Dora Akunyili, has become a trailblazer in the art world, captivating global audiences with her exceptional talent and unique perspective. Her mother, Dora Nkem Akunyili, was the Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria from 2001 to 2008, and died on 7 June 2014 after serving as Minister of Information and Communications from 2008 to December 2010.
At 40 years old, Njideka Akunyili Crosby has achieved what many artists aspire to in a lifetime. Her artwork ‘The Beautyful One’ made headlines when it sold for an astounding $4.74 million at Christie’s in November 2022, marking her as the most valuable Nigerian artist in history.
A Remarkable Artistic Journey
Njideka’s journey began in Enugu, Nigeria, where she was raised in a family of academics. Her decision to pursue art over medicine, inspired by a passion for storytelling, led her to the prestigious Yale University School of Art, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 2011.
In 1999, at 16 years old, she left her home accompanied by her sister, Ijeoma, and relocated to the United States. During a gap year, she dedicated her time to preparing for the SATs and immersing herself in American history classes. Following this, she returned to Nigeria to fulfill a year of National Service. After completing her service commitment, she went back to the United States to pursue studies in Philadelphia. It was during this time that she enrolled in her first oil painting class at the Community College of Philadelphia, where her instructor, Jeff Reed, motivated her to apply to Swarthmore College.
Graduating from Swarthmore College in 2004 as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, she initially pursued pre-medical requirements with the intention of entering the field of medicine. However, her path shifted during her senior year at Swarthmore when she recognised her preference for art classes over Organic Chemistry and Advanced Biology. This realization prompted her to redirect her focus towards art, driven by a compelling desire to convey her experiences as a Nigerian in the diaspora through her artistic expressions.
International Recognition and Achievements
Her artistic prowess has garnered international recognition, with accolades such as being named one of the Financial Times ‘Women of the Year’ in 2016 and receiving the MacArthur Fellowship ‘Genius Grant’ in 2017. Njideka’s impact extends beyond canvases, as seen in her design of the mural wrapping the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, in 2018.
Njideka’s art is a captivating blend of painting, collage, printmaking, and drawing, creating intricate scenes that explore her experiences as a Nigerian in the diaspora. Her work often delves into postcolonial history and diasporic studies, providing a unique perspective that resonates with a global audience.
From solo exhibitions at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, to being featured in the Met’s exhibition ‘Before Yesterday We Could Fly,’ Njideka’s art continues to transcend borders. Her inclusion in notable exhibitions like ‘Women Painting Women’ at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Kinship’ exhibit further solidify her global impact.
Market Success and Demand
Represented by prestigious galleries like Victoria Miro in London and Hauser & Wirth since 2018, Njideka’s work has experienced skyrocketing demand. The 2018 documentary ‘The Price of Everything’ showcased her journey in the art market, highlighting the surge in prices at auction and her painting ‘Drown’ fetching $900,000 at Sotheby’s in November 2016.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s rise to prominence is not merely a personal achievement but a testament to the universal appeal of her art. As she continues to break barriers and redefine the narrative, the world eagerly anticipates what this Nigerian artist will create next, cementing her legacy as a global artistic force.