- Njideka Akunyili Crosby born 1983
- Acrylic paint, transfer print on paper, coloured pencil and pastel on paper
- Support: 1925 × 3648 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by Michael and Sukey Novogratz (Tate Americas Foundation) 2020
Remain, Thriving 2018 is a very large painting on paper with collage elements. Nearly four metres wide by two metres high, it is made up of photo-collaged areas of transferred images reminiscent of the boldly patterned wallpaper found in many Afro-Caribbean households. The painting depicts an imagined domestic scene, characteristic of the artist’s observations of private life, and centres around a familial gathering of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Windrush generation (migrants who arrived in Britain after 1948 from the Caribbean on the SS Empire Windrush) who meet in a fictional home in Brixton. The living room space contains the vestiges of diaspora experience including family photos, a doily and a sideboard-style record player passed down from previous generations. Two men sit on a sofa to the left of the group, with two more sitting in chairs, while a woman stands near one of the men and a small child stands on the carpet at the centre of the group. All members of the gathering appear involved in the scene and engaged in shared conversation.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s paintings explore a hybrid cultural identity, reflecting her strong attachment to her Nigerian heritage and her current home in Los Angeles, although here the setting is a distinctly British one. Working with photography and painting, Akunyili Crosby’s multi-layered images of domestic scenes are built upon the artist’s personal reflections on history, community and politics. In her figurative paintings, subjects are often engaged in moments of relaxation and intimacy, challenging stereotypical representations of the black body in contemporary media. Addressing a British perspective, and as the title suggests, her work Remain, Thriving explores the importance of cultural memory in relation to notions of place-making and diaspora. Akunyili Crosby’s compositions combine drawn and painted surfaces with transferred images extracted from a variety of Nigerian pop cultural magazines, advertisements and online sources. Applying photocopies of these images with acetone and rubbing them onto the surface of the paper individually, she draws from an amalgam of visual languages for her paintings.
Remain, Thriving was the first in a series of new works commissioned by Art on the Underground for Brixton Underground Station in south London. Inspired by Brixton’s rich history of public murals, artists are invited to respond to the area’s diverse narratives, as well as the wider social and political history of mural making. In order to anchor her new work in Brixton, a heartland of London’s cosmopolitan diaspora, Akunyili Crosby spent time speaking to members of the local community, as well as archivists at the Black Cultural Archives and the Lambeth Archives. While making the painting, Akunyili Crosby considered the local constituents who travel through the station everyday, possibly even recognising familiar people and places in the work. The collaged elements of the painting include archival images of local landmarks such as Baron, a men’s clothes shop, and Brixton Recreation Centre, as well as celebrated figures like the Jamaican-born poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and community leader Olive Morris. Some of the locations featured have not survived the rapid redevelopment of the area, pointing towards the impact of gentrification, especially on migrant communities and businesses. The painting’s hopeful title, Remain, Thriving, refers to the communities who, despite political and economic hardships, have remained vital to Brixton’s social fabric.
Akunyili Crosby has stated:
For me, this work is for people who grew up in Brixton. I want the past to have a place in the present in this work: the work is very much about the present, but the past is so alive in it. I thought a lot about how you engage the space, how you engage people who might already know my work as well as people who have no idea as to why they’re looking at this living room scene as they enter Brixton station. I wanted the piece to be somewhat calming and quiet because it would be located in a bustling station, but I still wanted it to have all of the multi-century layers and stories of Brixton visible.
(Artist’s statement, https://art.tfl.gov.uk/projects/insert-title/, accessed 10 October 2019.)
Cheryl Brutav (ed.), Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to be Invisible, exhibition catalogue, Norton Art Museum, Palm Beach, Florida 2016.
Simone White, ‘Skin, Or Surface: Njideka Akunyili Crosby’, Frieze, no.194, April 2018.
Siddhartha Mitter, ‘The Beautyful Ones’, in Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones, exhibition catalogue, Victoria Miro Gallery, Venice/London 2019.
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