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Njideka Akunyili-Crosby: Visual artist in ethnopharmacologist mother’s footsteps

In the realm of artistry, Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s journey echoes the vibrant strokes of her mother’s legacy, the late Prof Dora Akunyili.

From the corridoes of Dora’s fearless battles against fake drugs in Nigeria to Njideka’s triumphs on the canvas, the Akunyili’s name resonates with resilience and creativity.

Like mom
In a recent spectacle at David Zwirner’s Los Angeles gallery, Njideka unveiled a masterpiece, “Still You Bloom in This Land of No Gardens.” Her meticulous approach, akin to her mother’s honesty and fearlessness, reflects in every brushstroke.

Just as her mom unearthed the truth behind fake drugs, Njideka exposes layers of her dark past, weaving a rich tapestry of Nigeria and American cultures. Hear her:

“The gallery’s construction delays became a serendipitous canvas for me, allowing me to refine my art further. David Zwirner, recognizing my unique artistic language, praised the exhibition titled: “Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Coming Back to See Through, Again,” as a testament to what he called my brilliance.”

Her mother’s influence
“In my artistic journey,” she said, “I find the threads of inspiration intricately women in me by the indomitable spirit of my late mother. Her strategic vision, much like a guiding brushstroke, illuminates the path I tread within the realm of ingenuity. Each time I delve into the layers of my creative process, I am reminded of her meticulous approach to life.

“Hours devoted into research, immersing myself into botanical gardens, and exploring local plant stores are a homage to her unwavering commitment to truth and excellence. Each painting becomes a deliberate fusion, a harmonious dance of personal memories, historical echoes, and cultural symbols — a visual symphony resonating with fellow Nigerians and stretching beyond borders.

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“Her trailblazing spirit, evident in my accolades such as being named one of the Financial Times’ “Women of the Year” in 2016 and receiving the prestigious $625 MacArthur Fellowship ‘Genius Grant’ in 2017, fuels my creative fire.

“The mural design for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, and inclusion in the Met’s exhibition ‘Before Yesterday We Could Fly are also brushstrokes on a canvas of global influence painted with her spirit.”

Commitment to truth
“Deliberate in my pace, I echo her commitment to truth and excellence in an art world that sometimes demand haste. My refusal to succumb to external pressures also mirrors her fearless confrontation of corruption in the Nigerian pharmaceutical market — a fight she undertook without compromise.

“And beyond the canvas, I embrace diversity, much like she fought against fake drugs irrespective of tribal affiliations. In my art, Nigerian Senator suits seamlessly blend with colonette dots, entwining with reference to the British Empire and American pop culture — a narrative that transcends cultural boundaries, just as my late mom’s legacy does.”

Dora’s legacy
The late Dora Akunyili’s impact on Nigeria’s pharmaceutical landscape finds its parallel in the influence on her child, Njideka, within the art world. The reduction of fake drugs from 60% to 16.5% according to media reports, mirrors the latter’s journey — from a humble $93.75K sale in 2016 to the awe-inspiring $4.74million spectacle in 2022.

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To this, Njideka intones; “As my art graces prestigious institutions like Met, Tate and Whitney Museum of American Art, I realize that breaking barriers is not just an achievement — it is a legacy. The upcoming exhibition at David Zwirner’s gallery stands as a testament of the enduring Akunyili legacy, an heirloom that continues to bloom in the hearts of those who appreciate the intertwining threads of truth, resilience and creativity.

“And, as I continue in the echoing stroke of my artistry, I carry forward the indelible mark of the Akunyili legacy on the canvas of the Nigerian history on the global art stage, all for Dora Akunyili to live on.”

Joke Kujenya
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