Njideka Akunyili Crosby


The Chicago-based arts nonprofit United States Artists (USA) has named the 60 recipients of this year’s fellowships, which each come with a $50,000 cash award. The selected artists were drawn from 22 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and represent all age groups and career stages.

Among the awardees in the visual arts, craft, and traditional arts categories are performance artist rafa esparza; quilt portraitist Bisa Butler; photocollage artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby; video and installation artist Carolyn Lazard, and painter and assemblage sculptor Daniel Lind-Ramos.

The program, now in its 15th year, has become closely watched, since many of its awardees go on to achieve fame in the years after winning a fellowship. Among those who have won USA fellowships at various points in their careers are Mark Bradford, Catherine Opie, and Wangechi Mutu.

Awardees are encouraged to use the cash prize in whatever means best supports their lives, from paying rent to financing new projects. In 2020, as a founding partner of Artist Relief, USA helped to distribute $20 million in direct funding to artists impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

“We are grateful for every artist whose artmaking, music, writing, and more is helping us to navigate and cope through this harrowing time in our country,” United States Artists president and CEO Deana Haggag said in a statement. “The 2021 USA Fellows are a testament to the power of art in shaping the world around us and navigating its complexities.”

The complete list of 2021 USA Fellows follows below:

Architecture & Design

Jennifer Bonner / MALL
Walter Hood
Olalekan Jeyifous


Diedrick Brackens
Bisa Butler
Amber Cowan
Salvador Jiménez-Flores
Cannupa Hanska Luger
Tiff Massey
Erin M. Riley


Ishmael Houston-Jones
Emily Johnson
Cynthia Oliver
Ni’Ja Whitson


Faren Humes
Macha Colón
Stephen Maing
Darius Clark Monroe
Naima Ramos-Chapman
Jennifer Reeder


Morehshin Allahyari
Stephanie Dinkins
Lauren Lee McCarthy
Mother Cyborg


Martha Gonzalez
Edward “Kidd” Jordan
Tomeka Reid
Wadada Leo Smith
Mazz Swift

Theater & Performance

Jibz Cameron
Carmelita Tropicana
Christopher Chen
Sandra Delgado
Idris Goodwin
Mia Katigbak
Karen Zacarías

Traditional Arts

Ofelia Esparza
Nathan P. Jackson
Basil Kincaid
Kawika Lum-Nelmida
Carolyn L. Mazloomi
Geo Soctomah Neptune
Delina White

Visual Art

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Lex Brown
rafa esparza
Maria Gaspar
Sharon Hayes
Carolyn Lazard
Daniel Lind-Ramos
Aki Sasamoto


Alexander Chee
Eve L. Ewing
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Dunya Mikhail
Elizabeth McCracken
Natalie Y. Moore
Danez Smith
Ocean Vuong

Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in 1983 in Enugu, Nigeria, and didn’t leave her small homogeneous town until moving to the metropolis of Lagos in 1993. Crosby grew up in a Nigeria that was acculturated to and independent from British colonial rule. At age sixteen, her family won the US green card lottery, and she immigrated to the United States for undergraduate studies. She earned a BFA from Swarthmore College in 2004 and an MFA from Yale University in 2011. After fifteen years in various East Coast cities, she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently resides.

Living in different countries and cities has proved formative to her work. She uses her transcultural experience as a Nigerian (bicoastal) American, underpinned by art historical and literary influences, to reflect the multilocal, multicultural nature of both contemporary African cities and US immigrant life. Crosby’s work interweaves painting, drawing, printmaking, and collage (fabric and photo) on paper. She transfers snapshots of and collages fabrics from contemporary Nigerian life into painted, loosely autobiographical scenes, contrasting her childhood in Nigeria with her adult life in America with her white American husband, and so on. The photos she uses evince the vestiges of British presence in Nigeria and/or the recent permeation of American popular culture in Nigeria. Similarly, the African fabrics carry a complicated history of colonial commerce.

She has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Crosby is a 2017 MacArthur Fellow and was honored as one of the Financial Times’ 2016 Women of the Year.


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