Dora Akunyili’s Daughter Wins $625,000 ‘Genius’ Award


Ololade Adeyanju/

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced the 24 winners of this year’s fellowship — often better known as the “genius” grant.

Among them is Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Njideka, 34, is daughter of Nigeria’s former information minister and pioneer director general of the National Agency for Foods Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), late Prof. Dora Akunyili.

Past winners included Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in 2008.

Njideka is a figurative painter whose large-scale works express the hybridity characteristic of transnational experience through choices of subject matter, materials, and techniques.

Each of the recipients was selected for having “shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction” — and each will receive a $625,000 award from the foundation “as an investment in their potential,” paid out over five years with no strings attached.

Born and raised in Nigeria but living now in the United States, Njideka layers paint, fabric, and photographic source imagery that she transfers or collages onto her surfaces. She constructs scenes that often include figures, sometime family members, situated in domestic settings.

Njideka received a B.A. (2004) from Swarthmore College, a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate (2006) from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and an M.F.A. (2011) from Yale University.

Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Hammer Museum, and the Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach), among others.

She has been a visiting instructor at the California Institute of the Arts (2015­–2016), the Maryland Institute College of Art (2012), and Swarthmore College (2011).