Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, daughter of late NAFDAC Chairman and former Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili, is expecting her first child with American husband Justin Crosby.
In an interview with the Guardian UK, the Victoria Miro artist talked about impending motherhood, how she took her first art class at 16, her mother, Mean Girls at Yale University, her heroine Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and the debt she owes Harlem’s Studio Museum.
She made an interesting revelation about her late mother. Akunyili, then a poor lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, was diagnosed as needing major surgery and was given 12, 000 from a work insurance fund to go to London and have treatment. But the London doctor said it was a misdiagnosis, so she gave the money back.
“Nigeria is not a country where anybody ever asks for you receipts” she explains. “And knowing how poor we were at the time, it’s amazing that she didn’t keep it”
Born in 1983 in Enugu, Njideka is seven months pregnant with her first baby, though you would barely notice.
“People in LA say, ‘what’s your birth plan’, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know!’ My whole mind has just been on this show,” she says, her laughter resonating around the vast white room. She adds that, being from Nigeria, the whole fuss around pregnancy in California seems a little unnecessary. I’m from the village,” she says, wryly, “and women there seem to give birth just fine without all this stuff.”
She moved to the US at the age of 16, and discovered that her homeland didn’t really matter to the outside world, other than as the scene of crises.
“I don’t want to write off the horrible things that happen in various African countries, but we’re not all walking around thinking about Aids and Boko Haram all the time. Those things affect us, but lots of times our problems are the silly daily problems that you have here. How do I get a date? Will my pay cheque be enough for this dress I want to wear to the wedding?”
Njideka revealed she met her heroine, acclaimed Nigerian author, who also moved from Nigeria to the US to study, a couple of times.
“She has this short story where the main character goes to a writing workshop, and she writes about someone whose boss is sexually harrassing her. And the teacher says to her, ‘Why don’t you write about an authentic African experience?’ Well, what is authentic – you think we don’t have these issues in Nigeria, too? Stuck in traffic, 30 minutes late for a meeting – that is the bulk of life. It’s a horrible example, but even in the midst of a tragedy like the Ebola epidemic – most people are probably just living their lives. That’s why so many of my figures [in the paintings] are really doing nothing. I think people sensationalise places in their heads, so I wanted to show just how normal life is in Nigeria”