When you hear the name Akunyili, the first person that comes to mind is the former renowned Director-General of the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC), late Mrs Dora Nkem Akunyili, who served the agency from 2001 to 2008. Her impact at the agency was so profound that her name became famous very quickly for the most impactful fight against drug counterfeit in the country. But this is not whom we read about today. It is her daughter, Njideka Cosby that strikes our attention.
When you have a mother like Mrs Dora Akunyili, you automatically have some deep shoes to fill and a tougher fight trying to make a name for yourself, but this young woman has managed to achieve fame by simply being herself.
Today, her name is known not only in Nigeria, but in the United States and other parts of the world as well. So who is this woman and why are we talking about her?
Njideka Akunyili Crosby (born 1983) is a Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los Angeles, California. Akunyili Crosby’s art “negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds”. In 2017, Akunyili Crosby was awarded the prestigious Genius Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
In 2016, Akunyili Crosby was named Financial Times Woman of the Year.
In 2017 Akunyili Crosby won the MacArthur Fellowship Genius grant.
In 2018 Akunyili Crosby designed the mural that wrapped the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.
Here are 5 pointers that Njideka Akunyli does not need a CV and how you can emulate her style.
She is self-made:
When your mum is famous for making great impacts in the entire wellbeing of a country, you could be tempted to walk in her shadow, hoping she would fix you up somewhere. After all, with a politically inclined mother, that would have been so easy. But Njideka did not wait around for someone to give her a job. Rather, she focused on the opportunities around her, made her own connections and worked her way to the top without her mother’s influence.
She played to her strengths:
Njideka grew up in Nigeria, like most of us and attended Queens College. While attending QC, Akunyili Crosby was exposed to even more Nigerian, British, and American popular culture, which contributed to the similarities between her work and the work of pop-culture artists.
From there, she travelled to the United State of America on her mother’s green card lottery, where she studied as well. She graduated Swarthmore College in 2004, where she studied art and biology as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. She was at first getting pre-medical requirements to pursue a career in medicine before deciding to pursue art. After graduating in 2004, she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This is where she earned a post-baccalaureate certificate in 2006. She later attended the Yale University School of Art, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. She also draws on her experience as a Nigerian woman living in America in her work.
It is note worthy to state that Njideka had always had a thing for the Arts and found a way to always come back to it until it became her only thing. So find your strengths and make them pave the way for you.
She built connections:
Rather than depend on her mother’s connections, Njideka built her own wherever she went to. After graduating from Yale in 2011, Akunyili Crosby was selected as artist-in-residence at the highly regarded Studio Museum in Harlem, known for promoting and supporting emerging African artists. During this residency she met her mentor, New-York based artist, Wangechi Mutu. In 2015, Jamillah James, a former Studio Museum in Harlem curator and at the time, assistant curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, organized Akunyili Crosby’s first solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum. That same year, James organized another exhibition of Akunyili Crosby’s work at Art and Practice in Los Angeles.
She was money smart:
While doing business, it is not always enough to depend on profits from whatever you are selling. You have to be smart with investments, demand and supply ratios, and industry standard as well. By 2016, demand for the Akunyili Crosby’s work, which she produces slowly, far outweighed supply, prompting her prices to soar at auction. She became one of the artists featured in Nathaniel Kahn’s 2018 documentary The Price of Everything where she discusses her career and attitude to her art market. It culminated with her painting Drown being sold at Sotheby’s contemporary art auction in November 2016 for $900,000. In March 2017, a work by Akunyili Crosby titled The Beautyful Ones was sold by a private collector for $3 million at Christie’s London.
She gave it her all:
At the age of 16, she left home with her sister, Ijeoma, and moved to the United States. She spent a year studying for her SAT’s and taking American history classes before returning to Nigeria to serve a year of National Service. After she completed her service, she returned to the United States to study in Philadelphia.
You have to make the moves that will secure your future and be intentional with them. Write that exam, save that money, do what it takes. Work hard to get to the point where you no longer need to introduce yourself or send out CVs, because one Google search will be enough to introduce you.
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