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A green photo collage by Nigerian born artist, Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, has become the highest grossing artwork by an artist from the country. The piece of art, titled Bush Baby, was sold at New York’s popular Sotheby’s auction for $3.4 million.

Njideka, who is based in Los Angeles, has come into the limelight in the past few years with her record-breaking art. Prior to the recent sale, Sotheby’s had valued Bush Baby at about $800,000. But its final price following the auction- the equivalent of ₦1.3 billion -confirmed Njideka’s place as one of the art world’s top new talents.

Akunyili-Crosby’s works are typically composed of photos and clips- creatively arranged, layered and painted collages. She says her works are inspired by a mixture of influences, ranging from Nigerian writers to Western visual artists.

This isn’t the first time she’s shattering the auction record for Nigerian artists. In 2017, another work of hers, sold for $3.1 million at an auction in London. That was itself preceded by a $1.1 million sale for Drown, a piece depicting an embrace between the artist and her husband.

The fact that Akunyili-Crosby has only been on the big art auction circuit for less than three years probably makes her feat remarkable. While she does have a first-rate grounding in the arts, the Yale University alumnus is often hailed as one whose works bear out their creator’s sheer talent. It’s one of the things the experts point to while accounting for her relatively quick explosion onto the art scene.

Reports suggest Akunyili Crosby could have even more headline-grabbing successes in the near future. It is said that over a dozen public museums are waiting to receive works she’s yet to complete.

Akunyili Crosby, a daughter of former NAFDAC boss Dora Akunyili, was born in Enugu. She left Nigeria for the USA while she was 16, where she had the rest of her education. But she’s always maintained ties with Nigeria, and the influence from her home country dominates her works.

She has received a number of accolades for her work. Perhaps the most significant of these was the MacArthur fellowship which she was awarded in 2017. She was also named ‘Woman of the Year’ by the Financial Times in 2016.

There appears to be growing international interest in Nigerian (and more widely, African) art. In 2017, Nigeria’s top artists grossed over $5 million from sales of their work at international auctions dedicated to African art. Akunyili Crosby, whose works weren’t included in those calculations, represents the younger beneficiaries of this positive turn.

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This article was first published on 28th September 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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