Here in Harlem

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nwantinti, 2012. The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition Committee and gift of the artist; courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo: Marc Bernier

Of the four hundred artists in The Studio Museum in Harlem’s permanent collection, 137 are immigrants to the United States or are based abroad. This diverse array of artists is impressive for an institution that is only turning fifty next year. The Studio Museum’s dedication not only to African-American artists, but also to artists of African descent is invaluable, as it allows the Museum opportunities to showcase non-American artists and further break down preconceived notions about those who live and create differently from us.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in Enugu, Nigeria, and lived there until she moved to the United States at sixteen. Her work Nwantinti (2012), featured in the Museum’s 2017 spring show Regarding the Figure, is a portrait of Crosby sitting on her bed and caressing her husband while his head rests in her lap. The painting is layered with references to Nigerian culture, visible as soon as the viewer’s gaze drifts to the figures on the bed. The tranquil scene emphasizes Crosby’s roots and also dispels dramatic ideas and associations regarding Africa, by depicting everyday life there as similar to what we experience in the United States. The way in which the figures look upon each other is powerful, and offers memories of a strong love that resonates—regardless of where a viewer calls home.

These simplicities often get lost in 2017. Having artists who understand multiple perspectives and lives, such as Crosby, stresses the similarities all societies share beneath the surface. Nwantinti is a clear example of such openness. It is a subtle reminder that our cultural differences will divide us only if we choose to let them.

Title: Nwantinti
Artist: Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Birth: Enugu, Nigeria
Current Place of Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Distance: 7,932 miles

–William Whitney