Things fall into two parts: Artist Njideka Akunyili tells a new Nigerian story

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The artist explains how she blends different techniques to describe a 'no man's land' between a Nigerian past and American present

When Njideka Akunyili left Lagos for the US aged 16, she wanted to be a doctor. But after studying a degree in biology and fine art, she decided to pursue a career as an artist. Her family were keen for her to follow a more stable career, but she felt an urge to tell another side of Nigeria’s story.

Click here or on view gallery to see more of Akunyili's paintings

“America has a lot of people talking about how Nigeria doesn’t,” she says. “Often people have a singular view about Nigeria and Africa. But problems of misrepresentation happen when people tell your story for you.”

Her story of Nigeria seen through the eyes of the US is a very personal one. She often puts her American husband (above) at the centre of her work, either painting them in bed together or depicting scenes from their traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony.

She also draws on images of Nigerian popular culture, which she combines with family photographs to create her own personal portrait of her home country.

“It really comes down to me showing my Nigeria. They’re the things I recognise. I need to feel a resonance with the picture for me to choose it in my work. If people can see a new side to Nigeria, I’m helping to add to the stories that already exist.”

Her use of pop culture references mixed with flattened sections of paint and one point perspective borrow from different artistic traditions.

Her intention, she says, is to convey her two identities merging together in a new, often problematic, space. Having lived in America for 14 years, she describes feeling in a “no man’s land” between two cultures.

“My work is not about being a Nigerian living in America. It’s more like a very interesting liminal space. A space that you can’t quite figure out."

Njideka Akunyili, Predecessors, 2013 Njideka Akunyili, Predecessors, 2013

“When you look at the work, things are jarring. I want to feel like something is off, like something is lost. It’s a little bit like wanting to put people in this weird no man’s land. I try and do that a little bit with the construction,” she says.

Her emphasis on bringing together different formal elements  is strongly influenced by Chinua Achebe and other Afro-Caribbean writers.

“Achebe once said if you alter the English language you can make it bear the burden of another language. I feel like I’m taking this Western visual language I inherited, just as African writers inherited English, and I’m trying to make a new version of it so it speaks to another place.”

One example is her use of transfers, a typically Western printing process that involves transferring ink from photographs using solvent. Akunyili builds up the transfer images of popular culture to reference traditional African textiles.

But her work doesn’t just tell the story of a conflict between her Nigerian and American lives. She is also interested in the mixture of cultures emerging within her home country.

“Another space I try to negotiate is modern Nigeria. There are vestiges of the British presence, but since 2000 the country has been opening up, so you get the American pop influence too.”

Akunyili left Nigeria for the US in 1999, and although she has not been back to exhibit there yet, she says she is still excited to be part of a palpable change in the country’s contemporary art scene.

“There are more Nigerians doing art on an international scale, and more people doing it successfully. The younger generation are realising the list of what you have to do as a career is not so limited. It’s more about people seeing art as a viable thing and not as a hobby,” she says.

Akunyili is fast making a name for herself on the international art scene. At last year’s Art Basel fair her paintings sold out in half an hour and she is currently exhibiting in London's Tiwani Contemporary, her second show in the capital this year.

Her new exhibition moves away from depicting intimate scenes with her husband, and instead focuses on portraits of her Nigerian family in domestic settings.

But she has not stopped painting her Nigerian life through an American lens. “My husband may not be there, but he’s present in so many other ways.”

Njideka Akunyili is exhibiting with Simone Leigh at the Tiwani Contemporary, London, until 14 December.

'I Always Face You, Even When It Seems Otherwise,' 2012 'I Always Face You, Even When It Seems Otherwise,' 2012  

Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map