Critics’ Picks

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Ike ya, 2016, acrylic, transfers, colored pencils, and charcoal on paper, 7 x 7 1/2'.


Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati
44 E. Sixth Street
July 15–October 1

Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s paintings exhibit both a generous opulence and a tender grace, taking small moments of intimacy and imbuing them with a meticulously ordered magnificence. Mama, Mummy and Mamma (Predecessors #2), 2014, is exemplary of her approach, presenting a domestic interior with the monumentality and structural organization of a Renaissance-era sacra conversazione. Like much of Akunyili Crosby’s work, this piece is wrought on paper, its painted image scored by numerous photo transfers that dissolve the painting’s surface even as its muscular linearity and bold colors work toward compositional unity. Functioning as a familial portrait, the work pictures the artist’s younger sister sitting at a table alongside a framed photograph of their mother, various tea accouterments, and religious iconography. On the kitchen wall behind her, another photograph shows their grandmother smiling out at the viewer. The implied triangle limned between the three women contains a thick matrix of tradition and genealogical memory, with the stew of photo transfers creating a mnemonic field of African fashion and popular culture.

The most potent work in the show is 2016’s Ike ya, an interior based on Akunyili Crosby’s Los Angeles home. In the painting, a woman sits on an Ikea couch while embracing a man who kneels before her and rests his head on her chest. The closeness of the moment is almost painful in its earnestness, and the attention to the quotidian details of the couple’s home acts as an invitation to a silent but intensely captivating warmth.