Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Njideka Akunyili Crosby will give the Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud Endowed Lecture. (Photo by Brigitte Sire)

Nigerian American Artist Will Give Thiebaud Endowed Lecture

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, whose art negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in the United States and her native Nigeria through collage and photo transfer-based paintings, will give the seventh annual UC Davis Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud Endowed Lecture on Nov. 12 at 4:30 p.m. This year’s free online lecture celebrates art professor emeritus Wayne Thiebaud’s 100th birthday on Nov. 16. Register here.

Akunyili Crosby is a recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship; a 2020 Carnegie Corporation “Great Immigrant, Great American” Award; a Financial Times' 2016 Women of the Year award; and a 2019 African Art Award.

artwork by Njideka Akunuili Crosby
"Dwell: Aso Ebi," 2017, © Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner

Drawing on political, personal and art historical references, Akunyili Crosby creates densely layered, figurative compositions focused on interiors and everyday scenes that reflect the complexity of contemporary experience, her own cross-cultural experiences and Nigeria’s thorny history. The artworks showing families watching television, friends socializing, couples sharing intimate moments, or lone figures lost in thought are constructed of family portraits, snapshots and images from Nigerian movies, advertisements and history.

“I’m mining my life to tell a story that is global,” she said in an interview with the MacArthur Foundation.

Akunyili Crosby has had recent solo exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Baltimore Museum of Art. She also has participated in La Biennale di Venezia and in exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. Artworks by Akunyili Crosby are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Studio Museum in Harlem and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In early 2021 she will have a solo exhibition at the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, that will also be shown at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. 

Akunyili Crosby came to the United States at 16, took her first painting class at a community college, and didn’t decide to major in art until her final year at Swarthmore College where she initially studied pre-med. She earned her M.F.A. at Yale University. She lives in Los Angeles.

The Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud Endowed Lecture honors the Thiebauds’ long-standing commitment to educating the eye and hand along with the mind. Betty Jean Thiebaud, a filmmaker and teacher, and Wayne Thiebaud married in 1959. She died in 2015. Wayne Thiebaud began teaching at UC Davis in 1960, shortly after the art department was founded. He retired in 1991 but continued teaching for the next decade.

The endowed lecture complements the Art Studio Visiting Artist Lecture Series, a core component of the Art Studio M.F.A. program, increasing its ability to invite distinguished artists, critics and curators to the UC Davis campus.

In addition, this event is supported by the College of Letters and Science’s Department of Art and Art History, the Art Studio Program, and the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. 

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science


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