Njideka Akunyili Crosby in Conversation at Tate Modern, London, SE1


Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian artist, now living in Los Angeles. She makes narrative paintings which deal with issues in her own life: moving between her native culture and the US, the ‘contact zone’, the role of women, her relationship with her husband.

Given my current work, I’m interested in her treatment of autobiographical themes: she doesn’t shy away from domestic settings and ‘undramatic’ compositions. The interest then is in how she incorporates all kinds of references in ways that contribute to the formal qualities of the paintings, as well as their meanings.

She uses pieces of portrait fabrics – a Nigerian speciality, produced often for events like birthdays or weddings – and transfers of images and text from newspapers and magazines. She has collected these for years and can now pull from her library images that contribute to the story of a painting. She uses them as a pattern or texture in their own right.


Predecessors, 2013: left hand panel


Portals, 2016: left hand panel









The paintings are large – Predecessors, above left, is 7ft square – so they are bold and in these images, it looks like there are big plain areas. But Crosby explained that she uses texture media, metal flakes and all sorts of inclusions to create surface interest, which isn’t picked up in digital images. Although I’m working on a much smaller scale, this question of surface and interest does arise and earlier today I was mulling over how to create a background from which one of my ink drawings could emerge.

I think you could describe Crosby’s paintings as creating a rich background, not only visually but historically and contextually, from which her characters emerge.