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Yale Art alumnus showcased at Yale Center of British Art in museum for first time

This Thursday, the YCBA opens the Hilton Als Series: Njideka Akunyili Crosby exhibit, marking the first time a Yale School of Art graduate has been featured at the center.

Olivia Charis

9:12 p.m., Sep 21, 2022

Collaborating journalist

Courtesy of Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

On Tuesday, the Yale Center for British Art previewed a Njideka Akunyili Crosby ART ’11 exhibition – featuring the centre’s first pieces by a Yale alumnus.

YCBA Director Courtney J. Martin GRD ’09 described the exhibit, the third and final installment in a series curated by Pulitzer Prize-winning Hilton Als, as a “milestone” for the center. The exhibition opens to the public on September 22.

“This is the first time we will have an exhibition by a School of Art alumnus here at the Yale Center for British Art,” Martin said at the opening. “The idea that someone who came here would also show up with us then is also an achievement.”

“I don’t know if we’ll have one more in my lifetime,” she added.

The center usually features works by artists of British descent or those who come from various parts of the former British Empire. Few of those who fall into these categories are Yale School of Art graduates, Martin said.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who was born in Nigeria before coming to the United States in 1999, graduated from the Yale School of Art in 2011. Her series, titled “The Beautyful Ones”, is named after the Ghanaian author’s 1968 novel Ayi Kwei Armah and is focusing on his “recalibration” of his relationship with Nigeria.

The series sheds light on the figures of Nigerian children, including some members of Akunyili Crosby’s family, and examines identity in the context of postcolonial history.

The title notes the shift in the artist’s understanding of Nigeria from “systemically corrupt Africa” ​​to a rebirth of his country and his identity in his generation.

The exhibition hosts seven pieces in total, including an earlier work, created by Akunyili Crosby in 2010.

YCBA Deputy Director Martina Droth emphasized the importance of including the earlier works of Akunyili Crosby in this exhibit. The play, “The Rest of Her Remains” (2010), was purchased while Akunyili Crosby was still studying in New Haven. This time, Droth said, was when Akunyili Crosby became an artist and “discovered how she wanted to work.”

Droth described Akunyili Crosby’s development as an artist who was initially very attached to a more traditional style and felt constrained. Instead of trying to fix the traditionalist mould, Droth said, Akunyili Crosby propelled herself forward.

This burst of creativity is evident in this exhibition, which Akunyili Crosby has described as “the most direct series of portraits she has produced.”

Each piece uses a method of photocopying images with acetate solvent onto transfer paper. This process creates “memory tissues,” said Akunyili Crosby.

Akunyili Crosby collected many photos of her family and close friends, including two pictures of her sisters. Along with the photocopied image, each piece includes a “tapestry of successes and people who were both in the culture and in its life.”

For example, “‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ Might Not Hold True For Much Longer” (2013) includes an influential figure in both Nigerian culture and the artist’s life – his mother Dora Akunyili. Akunyili served as Nigeria’s representative Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control from 2001 to 2008.

Akunyili Crosby’s mother is part of a sea of ​​characters woven around the figure of a daughter – a common theme throughout the exhibition.

“They’re not about nostalgia, but they’re about memory and experience,” Akunyili Crosby said.

Another piece in the series, “‘The Beautyful Ones’ Series #6” (2018) is a second example of the artist evoking particular moments from childhood. The subject is seen dressed in a school uniform, transposed before another mirage of memories and history.

Throughout her life, Akunyili Crosby observed trends in Nigerian fashion tastes over time, which she then translated into the colors and patterns woven into her pieces.

Droth said the rest of the floor near the exhibit was curated to complement Akunyili Crosby’s work, reflecting ideas about “collage, interiors and figure”.

Rachel Stratton, postdoctoral research associate at the YCBA, said many of these pieces that echo Akunyili Crosby’s work in the exhibition “Inner Dialogues: Works from the Collection” represent moments when “our perspective on the world, who we are and how we exist in it changes.”

As the first student of the Yale School of Art presented at the YCBA, Akunyili Crosby offers the viewer pieces that can be interpreted endlessly – intertwining details, echoing her memories, those and the culture that surrounds her. have shaped.

The YCBA will host a Steve McQueen Symposium on September 28-29.