Lot 63
  • 63


50,000 - 70,000 GBP
200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Njideka Akunyili Crosby
  • À la Warhol
  • oil on canvas
  • 56.5 by 44.5cm., 22¼ by 17¾in.(image); 76 by 61cm., 30 by 24in.(stretcher)

Catalogue Note

Njideka Akunyili was born in Enugu, south-eastern Nigeria, into a middle-class family. Her paintings explore her hybrid identity as an African woman living in America, and narrate her experience of finding herself with two cultural notions of home and belonging. Akunyili Crosby’s experience of American culture began as a child, when she was exposed to popular American music artists and TV shows, which portrayed life far removed from her own daily experience at the time. Her parents, Dr John Chike Akunyili and Prof. Dora Akunyili (later Nigerian Minister of Information and Communications), had high expectations of their six children. Njideka was sent to boarding school in Lagos, before her mother won the Green Card Lottery and sent her Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. There, she took her first art lesson, and graduated in 2004 with a degree in art and biology from Swarthmore College. Akunyili Crosby later completed a post-baccalaureate certificate at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and an MFA from Yale University School of Art, and was an Artist-in-Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem 2011–12. She now lives in Los Angeles.

À La Warhol dates from Akunyili Crosby’s time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 2005-2006. With this work, the artist experiments with portraiture and colour, and begins to contextualise herself within the Western canon of art history. The title refers to the silkscreen portraits of American artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987), which he used to portray himself as well as the rich and famous of his day, the same image repeated in blocks of varying bright, often fluorescent, colours. In Akunyili Crosby’s version, the four self-portraits are painted in earthy tones, and she takes a departure from Warhol’s mass-produced, hyper-energetic screenprints, rather painting thoughtful, layered images with depth and texture. She illustrates herself in a pensive, self-reflective state in stark contrast to Warhol’s way of seeing the women of America’s mass-media popular culture.

From this early homage to Andy Warhol, Akunyili Crosby has found inspiration in the work of a wide range of artists, from the compositions of Diego Velázquez and Sidney Goodman, to the use of colour by Kerry James Marshall and Peter Halley, as she forges her own unique style. Yet À La Warhol contains many elements that can be seen in her more mature work, in which she creates figurative compositions from dense layers of paint, fabric, and photographic transfers, often taken from family photo albums and scrapbooks. These layers mirror the many layers of Akunyili Crosby’s experience, from Enugu State to Los Angeles, and her identity as Igbo, Nigerian, African, American, black, immigrant, woman, daughter, sister, wife and, most recently, mother. The intimacy of this self-portrait, and the vulnerability suggested by her closed eyes, remain central to her work today.

Akunyili Crosby has also talked of the influence of Nigerian writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe on her work. Their struggles with, and mastery of, writing in both English and their local Nigerian languages for a dual audience mirrors the themes that she tackles in her art. Though Akunyili Crosby’s practice explores Western traditions of image making, her work is rooted in her Nigerian upbringing and her experience as an African woman living in the West, and she places her family and herself as the subjects in her works. This can be seen in recent works such as Mother and Child (2016), in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Dwell: Aso Ebi (2017), most recently on view at at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Akunyili Crosby’s work is in the permanent collections of institutions worldwide, including The Rubell Family Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Tate Modern, Zeitz MOCAA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Perez Art Museum Miami, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Smithsonian National Museum of African Arts.