Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Dawoud Bey. | Photos courtesy MacArthur Foundation

 

THE LATEST CLASS of MacArthur Foundation fellows includes photographer Dawoud Bey and painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby. The artists are among 24 recipients of 2017 “Genius” grants announced today. MacArthur Fellowships are bestowed upon “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” This year’s fellows include musicians, historians, authors, artists, designers, scientists, a journalist, and human rights strategist.

“From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges. Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all,” said Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Fellows Program.

“These new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges. Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all.” — Cecilia Conrad, MacArthur

Among the most coveted recognitions in the country, the fellows are selected through an anonymous selection process involving a rotating pool of nominators from a variety of fields. The fellowship is a $625,000 unrestricted award.

Artist Trevor Peglan, author Jesmyn Ward, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, composer/musician Tyshawn Sorey, and musician and singer/songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, are also among the 2017 fellows. Last year’s recipients included art historian and curator Kellie Jones and Baltimore bead artist Joyce J. Scott.

 


Video by MacArthur Foundation

 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34

Akunyili Crosby’s collage paintings explore domestic life and reflect her cosmopolitan Nigerian heritage and evolving cultural experiences as a Los Angeles-based artist.

“I use my work to explore the spaces where disparate cultures overlap, really mining my story or my history as someone who grew up in a very small town, moved to a big city in Nigeria, and then eventually moved to the United States and really thinking of people who inhabit spaces like that. So thinking of post-colonial spaces and immigrant spaces spaces where multiple cultures come together,” Akunyili Crosby says in the video above.

“I use my work to explore the spaces where disparate cultures overlap, really mining my story or my history.” — Njideka Akunyili Crosby

In the course of her relatively brief career, she has enjoyed exceptional critical and commercial success. In 2014, she won the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s James Dicke Contemporary Art Prize and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize in 2015. Museums are lining up to purchase Akunyili Crosby’s work for their collections. In the span of six months, the value of her works at auction soared from less than $100,000 to more than $3 million, an artist record achieved in March 2017 at Christie’s London.

Two exhibitions of her work are opening this month. The Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College is presenting “Opener 30 – Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Predecessors” (Oct. 14-Dec. 31. 2017) and “Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Counterparts” is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art (Oct. 25, 2017-March 18, 2018).

 


Dawoud Bey discusses his practice and groundbreaking photography projects. | Video by MacArthur Foundation

 

Dawoud Bey, 63

Bey is a Chicago-based photographer and professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. He is known for his portraits of people whose lives are rarely documented. “I make photographs of things that I think might be taken for granted in order to give them more resonance and presence,” he says in the video above.

“I make photographs of things that I think might be taken for granted in order to give them more resonance and presence.” — Dawoud Bey

Over the years, Bey has pursued a series of unique projects. Three key bodies of work include, “Class Pictures” (2002–2006), portraits created in collaboration with young people and institutions across America; “The Birmingham Project” (2013), a series of dual portraits honoring the lives of six children killed in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., presented at the Birmingham Museum of Art and 2014 Whitney Biennial; and “Harlem Redux” (2014–2017), in which Bey reprised his first project, “Harlem, U.S.A.” (1975–1979, later remounted in the 2010s), post-gentrification.

His latest project is a departure. He has been working in Cleveland making landscape photographs based on the movements of fugitive slaves.

When Bey got the call informing him that he had been chosen for a MacArthur grant, he said it was affirming. He said: “When I heard that I was a MacArthur Fellow, it was a deeply affirming moment to know that the work I’ve done these past 40 years was recognized by my peers at that level.” CT

 

BOOKSHELF
“Dawoud Bey: Class Pictures” and “Dawoud Bey: Harlem, U.S.A.” document two of the photographers’s most acclaimed bodies of work. Additional volumes capture his work and exhibitions over the years. “I Refuse to be Invisible” was published to coincide with Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art. The show was her first survey and the book is the first to document her practice and includes a lengthy interview with the artist.