It’s a Nigerian artist who was awarded the Prix Canson 2016, whose sixth edition was held last June 21 in the US, at the Drawing Center in New York. The famous brand of paper has chosen this year to honor Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a visual artist working from photographs diluted with acetone, and whose work, fierce reflection of a contemporary transcultural identity, has conquered the jury.
They were two Nigerian among the last 5 finalists of the Prix Canson this year in New York. But there could only be one and it’s Njideka Akunyili Crosby who prevailed over the other nominees and her compatriot, Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze last June 21st. Having emerged winner of the Prix Canson, the visual artist will receive a solo show and €10,000 (about $11,300) worth of Canson paper, and the Fonds Canson will purchase one of her pieces. In addition, she will take part in a residency program at the home of the late Brazilian artist Tunga, who was a member of the jury and who died earlier this month, besides an undeniable media visibility. “We felt that your work has an unparalleled level of complexity. It confuses the personal accounts with other complex cultural components. Your mastery of several arts subjects such as drawing, collage or wax on your iconic painting, and last but not least, your total dedication to the paper have contributed to this award !”, explained Brett Littman, Vice President of the Prix Canson and director of the Drawing Center.
Histories and culture blur in the works of Njideka. The collages she embeds in her autobiographical tableaux include family snapshots but also advertisements from the 1970 and 80s as well as photographs that date back to the colonial period in Nigeria. By combining drawing, painting and collage of these photographs diluted with acetone and assembled as the grounds of a wax cloth, Njideka’s compositions use the traditions of Western academic painting for her characters and stagings, while at the same time channelling them in the heart of an in-between area evoking both the Nigerian popular culture and American life. A “third space”, point of overlap and blending of cultures characteristic of African communities.
The artist’s intimacy is also often staged, even to the point of sometimes bringing us into the couple’s bedroom. There are also these pictures of Nigerian lawyers wearing white wigs, last vestige of a British colonial presence. “I do all these mixes so that when you are in front of it, you, the viewer, are being placed in the transcultural, trans-everything space”, she says, adding that she is always on the lookout for “things that point to the convoluted but interesting and beautiful histories that come out of post-colonial countries”. An hybrid identity that the visual artist feeds by paying regular visits to Nigeria and other African countries, inexhaustible sources of inspiration, to stock up with photographs, magazines and advertisements reflecting the Nigerian lifestyle.
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY
Born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1983, Njideka Akunyili Crosby is the daughter of Nigeria’s former Information Minister and Director General of the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), late Dr Mrs Dora Akunyili.
In 2015, she won the Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize awarded by the Studio Museum in Harlem. Njideka has been on a roll lately, with solo shows and projects at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, the Whitney Museum in New York, and the Hammer Museum and Art+Practice in Los Angeles. Her works have been published in the press (Frieze, Art in American, the New York Times, Art Forum …).
Njideka Akunyili Crosby is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery in London. She lives and works in Los Angeles.