Family and Shared Cultural Histories
Njideka Akunyili Crosby


Pera Museum, in collaboration with Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), is one of the main venues for this year’s 15th Istanbul Biennial from 16 September to 12 November 2017.
Through the biennial, we will be sharing detailed information about the artists and the artworks.


Often employing acrylic and paper transfer methods, the paintings of Njideka Akunyili Crosby speak to the duplication of images, the contours of memory and the marks left after representations, places and people are reproduced, passed down and transferred. The paintings frequently depict interior spaces that contain family and shared cultural histories, in many cases referring to the artist’s experience of the Nigerian diaspora. Despite the paintings’ representational acuity and bent towards realism, a play of grids and transfer marks is often visible, which points to the works’ status as a patchwork of signs, and their ties to other media. Often Akunyili Crosby depicts domestic interiors. Nyado: The Thing Around Her Neck (2011), for example, shows a female figure embracing a young man sitting at a table, in a gesture that is at once protective and motherly. A wash of flower motifs and images of people surround them, intimate yet representative of a chorus of faces. On the table in Grandmother’s Parlour (2016) we see a variety of mementos and everyday objects: framed portraits, a religious icon, a cross, and vessels for food – pointing to a communal or familial activity. Smiling out of one of the framed photographs, is a lady in a formal dress, a document of some special event, perhaps. Also on the table is a kerosene lamp used in Akunyili Crosby’s native Nigeria. The table depicted belonged to the artist’s grandmother and points to questions of legacy and objects as containers of memory, and of domestic spaces as carriers of both family and larger cultural history. In ‘The Beautyful Ones’ Series #1c (2014), a standing woman faces outward. She is enmeshed in a number of other images: cut-outs from lifestyle and fashion magazines. Immersed in these media projections of the black body, the figure in the foreground (the artist’s older sister) stands upright, embodied, present, both represented and wholly there. Referencing the book The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, by Ayi Kwei Armah, the work shows how history and representation, instead of confining, can offer promise, independence, pride and hope.

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