“Nigeria is almost a third character in my work,” she said. “A lot of my work is about investigating my love for Nigeria and my life in America.
“I met my husband at college and there was some anxiety that if I married outside my culture I would lose my identity, but there is a space in my work where these things come together.”
Akunyili is hoping to help change attitudes to art in Nigeria, where she said appreciation is growing slowly.
“If I hadn’t left Nigeria, I wouldn’t be an artist, I would be a doctor,” she said. “When I told my parents I wanted to be an artist, they couldn’t get their heads around why an educated person who went to college in America would want to be an artist.
“If people think of artists, it’s somebody by the side of the road painting signs.”
“When I was young, the less Nigerian you were the cooler you were, but now we have gone back to tradition,” said Akunyili. “There’s a nice energy about the country that’s finally coming into its own.”