MacArthur 'Genius' Paints Nigerian Childhood Alongside Her American Present

Njideka Akunyili Crosby paints in her Los Angeles studio in September 2017.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Visual artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34, is having a moment. In 2017, she won a so-called MacArthur “genius” grant, and over the past few months her work has been shown in Baltimore, New Orleans and upstate New York.

Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States when she was 16. Her large-scale paintings (some as big as 8 by 10 feet) reflect her life in both countries. They show groups of people in Nigeria or Brooklyn or Los Angeles, and incorporate photographs of politicians, images of ancestors (mostly women) and objects that signify life in both cultures — a bowl to hold rice, a kerosene lamp, Ikea furniture.

Akunyili Crosby says, “I think the point I make in my work is that my home is Nigeria and the United States at the same time.”

The painter holds citizenship in both countries. She listens to both Grace Jones and Nigerian pop in her studio, and, when filling out forms, she never knows what to put down as her permanent residence. “That really is what it means, for me, to be an immigrant, is this navigation of two worlds at the same time,” she says.

Many of her works contain a sort of portal between figures, like an open space in a wall, and she often paints members of her family. I Still Face You shows people around a table; the artist is standing and gazing down at the only white person there — her now-husband.

Akunyili Crosby’s I Still Face You was inspired by her now-husband’s first visit to Nigeria.

Joshua White Photography/Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

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Joshua White Photography/Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

“That is loosely based on what happened the first time he visited Nigeria.” Akunyili Crosby says. “Yes, there was a very serious family meeting that probably had three times the number of people in that painting. And it was, ‘So, young man, what are your plans? Are you going to marry her? How will you guys make it work in a country that is still very racist?’ ” (They now have a young son.)

Ian Berry, director of the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., says this is a critical time to show artists like Akunyili Crosby, whose work looks like the museum’s visitors. “I think Njideka’s work presents a complicated … view of what it means to be from different places and of different places and living in a contemporary world,” he says. “So seeing her version of portraiture where people are a complex mix, I think, is very valuable right now.”

Trevor Schoonmaker is the chief curator at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, N.C., and artistic director for “Prospect.4,” a New Orleans-wide art show that includes Akunyili Crosby’s work. He says, “There’s enough beauty and recognizable something [in Akunyili Crosby’s paintings] that we can all relate to no matter where we’re from, that just pulls you in.”

Ike ya shows Akunyili Crosby and her husband in their home in the U.S.

Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

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Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

He’s especially intrigued with the way the artist layers different worlds and images, mixing acrylics, colored pencils and photos to at least partly cover nearly every figure, from a Nigerian Michael Jackson impersonator to a former dictator to Janelle Monáe.

“She’s figured this out in a way that’s really brilliant,” Schoonmaker says. “And certain elements are American, and other elements are Nigerian; certain elements are Western, others are African. And she just — I mean, that’s why she just won a MacArthur.”

Akunyili Crosby got the call about the MacArthur grant while she was parking her car. “The only reason why I picked it up is I’m curious — I love answering numbers I don’t know,” she says. “And I picked it up and it was the MacArthur Foundation. It was very bizarre, but also very happy!”

That curiosity feeds her work. As an undergrad, Akunyili Crosby majored in both studio art and biology. Today, the many layers in her paintings serve as membranes, enabling a cultural osmosis between the living rooms of her Nigerian childhood and those of her current life in Los Angeles.

Tom Cole and Kat Lonsdorf edited and produced this story for broadcast. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

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Tax Changes Could Hurt Affordability At High End Of The Housing Market

The new tax law will have the biggest impact on the market for luxury homes such as this one in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif.

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Kari Pinto and her husband recently retired, and now are hoping to trade Iowa — and its harsh winters — for a state with a milder climate.

But the tax bill President Trump signed into law last month has complicated their search for a new home.

“Now we just have another wrinkle in trying to determine where to go, and how much it’s going to cost us,” she says.

The new tax law is forcing a lot of people to reconsider whether they want to buy a home and how much they can pay, and that could affect housing prices, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

By the summer of 2019, housing prices nationwide will be about 4 percent less than they otherwise would have been, Zandi predicts. Prices could actually decline for higher-priced homes in parts of the country such as the Northeast, South Florida and the West Coast, he says.

Homebuyers will take a hit in several ways.

Starting in 2018, homeowners can only deduct interest on mortgages up to $750,000. The previous cap was $1 million, with another $100,000 allowed for home equity loans.

Not many Americans have mortgages that large, so relatively few will be hurt, says Sam Chandan, associate dean and head of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.

The doubling of the standard deduction on federal income tax will be much more consequential, he says.

“That means that for a lot of people around the country, it just won’t make sense to itemize and take advantage of that mortgage interest deduction any longer. So that doesn’t really hurt housing directly, but it does take away one of the advantages” of homeownership, Chandan says.

For the first time, homeowners also will face a $10,000 cap on what they can deduct on their state and local taxes. Some 95 percent of homeowners fall below that amount, so the impact of the change will once again be minimal in most places, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

“We don’t anticipate too much change for the middle part of the country, where home values are fairly affordable,” Yun says.

But in high tax states such as New York, Maryland, Connecticut and California, many more people will take a hit.

“The homeownership rate is falling in California, because of the unaffordable condition. Now, with the tax reform it will make it even more unaffordable than before,” Yun says.

In New York, 20 percent of homeowners pay more than $10,000 in property tax alone. In New Jersey, it’s 30 percent.

Capping the tax deduction will make housing more expensive to own at the upper end and could gradually drag down prices in that segment of the market in some places.

“My gut tells me that it’s going to have an impact at some level. That is, I think it’s probably going to be in the $450,000-plus range,” says Richard Wight, owner of Ward Wight Sotheby’s International Realty in Manasquan, N.J.

“It’s going to have an impact on the disposable income of some buyers, which will in fact impact their qualifications to bid higher than they otherwise might have bid,” he says.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, NYU’s Chandan notes.

Many economists have long argued that the generous mortgage-interest deductions given by the federal government amounted to an indirect subsidy to home purchases and have distorted housing prices.

“When we subsidize something, when we make it cheaper, we’re going to get more of it. And so we get more housing,” Chandan says. “That in itself has acted to increase house prices, increased the extent to which we consume housing, has directed resources in the economy into the housing sector and at least on the margin have crowded out investment in other areas.”

That means the reduction in mortgage-interest and tax deductions may actually benefit the economy in the long run. But for now, some homeowners could see the value of their properties fall.

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WATCH: Hockey Player Tells Dad He Made The Olympic Team

Bobby Butler during hockey training camp when he played for the Florida Panthers in 2014.

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Lynne Sladky/AP

The U.S. unveiled its roster for the men’s Olympic Hockey team on Monday.

And the joyful, emotional moment when forward Bobby Butler told his dad that he made the team was caught on video.

It shows Butler skating up to the side of the rink as his father walks in. The two men shake hands, then Butler breaks the news. His dad immediately throws his arms around him as his teammates cheer.

Watch, it will probably brighten your day:

TFW you tell your dad that you’ve made the US Olympic Team 🙌🏻#TeamUSA 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/ASoOYYXS4Z

— Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) January 1, 2018

The 30-year-old Butler, who hails from Marlborough, Mass., skates for the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals.

Like 14 of his Olympic teammates, Butler has played on NHL teams. But this is the first Olympics in two decades that no U.S. team members are currently playing for the NHL.

That’s because the NHL announced last April that it wouldn’t pause its regular season to accommodate players who want to compete at the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The NHL stated that the “overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-2018 NHL season.”

The decision was also about money, as NPR’s Camila Domonoske reported: “The International Olympic Committee has previously paid for players to travel to the Olympics, and covered their insurance costs. But the IOC wasn’t planning to foot the bill for 2018.”

The players on the men’s final roster came from colleges, from Americans playing in Europe and from the American Hockey League. And, as SB Nation wrote, NHL stars are out and “in their place are a bunch of guys you’ve probably never heard of.”

In previous years, “USA Hockey got all its Olympic players from one league: the NHL,” according to SB Nation. “Without that option, management turned to a wide variety of sources, plucking players from leagues around the world to piece together a roster for Pyeongchang.”

The NHL’s decision created a unique opportunity for players who would not have been able to make the team otherwise. Just one member of the team, captain Brian Gionta, has played in the Olympics before.

“We really like our roster,” team general manager Jim Johannson said in a statement. “It’s a group that brings versatility and experience and includes players with a lot of passion about representing our country.”

The roster is perplexing to some hockey observers, such as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky, who calls it “weird as hell” with little name recognition.

But it may be that the lack of prior fame makes moment like Butler’s all the more poignant.

“I know we’re a little down on the Olympics without the NHL, but these are the kinds of moments that make me so happy for the players selected,” writes ESPN hockey analyst Chris Peters. “You know they’ll battle every day for the crest on that jersey.”

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Radio Replay: Fresh Starts

A young Maya Shankar.

Courtesy of Maya Shankar

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Courtesy of Maya Shankar

In 2006, Derek Amato suffered a major concussion from diving into a shallow swimming pool. When he woke up in the hospital, he was different. He discovered he was really good a playing piano.

Derek is one of just a few dozen known “sudden savants” or “accidental geniuses”—people who survive severe head injuries and come out the other side with special gifts for music or math or art. We were skeptical, so we brought Derek into a studio and asked him to play. He can’t read music or even play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but the music he improvises is beautiful. In this episode, Shankar talks with Derek and two experts to try to understand his musical transformation.

Then, we talk with Maya Shankar. As a young girl, Maya was well on her way to a promising career as a classical violinist. The famed Itzhak Perlman had taken her on as his private student at The Juilliard School at the age of 14, and she was accepted to his prestigious summer program on Shelter Island.

But not long after, she injured her finger while playing a difficult section of Paganini’s Caprice no. 13. She tore a tendon in her hand, putting her musical career to an untimely end.

As an adult, Maya has reached a new pinnacle in an entirely different field. At the age of 30, she was named a senior adviser at the Obama White House, working to create better policy using insights from behavioral science. It’s a new calling, and one she couldn’t have anticipated at Juilliard, where she dreamed of being a concert violinist. What followed in the days after her musical career ended was an incredible sense of loss.

“I was really devastated to lose something that I was completely in love with, and so passionate about, and that had really constituted such a large part of my life and my identity,” she says. “I was first and foremost a violinist.”

On this Radio Replay, we look at turning the page and starting anew.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

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Rick Hall, Producer And Songwriter Who Put Muscle Shoals On The Map, Dead At 85

Rick Hall in his office at FAME Studios in 1968 in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

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Rick Hall, a songwriter and record producer known as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” died today at his home in Muscle Shoals, Ala. after a protracted illness. The news was first reported by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and later confirmed by Judy Hood, chairperson for the Muscle Shoals Music Association and wife of David Hood, a bassist who had worked alongside Hall for decades. He was 85.

Through FAME, his publishing company and studio, Hall made Muscle Shoals synonymous with a sound of soul, R&B and country that often featured sparkling, ultra-live percussive sounds and vocal performances that seem simultaneously removed and intimate.

Hall was born in Mississippi and raised in Franklin County, Ala., just adjacent to Colbert County, where Muscle Shoals is located.. Hall cited a tough upbringing as focusing him and leading to his eventual success. As he told No Depression:

“My father was a sawmiller; he made 35 cents an hour, which was 10 cents more than anybody else did, because he was so good at what he did and a hard worker. My mother left my father when I was five and my sister was four, and she went to live with my aunt and became a matron in a brothel. My father wound up raising my sister and me. That was all shameful to me. We had no shoes to wear to school, and my father cut my hair, which meant he pulled out chunks of it with rough scissors. I carried that shame throughout my life; it turned me into a rascal of sorts, and I became very hardened and determined. My determination made me a tough businessman and I was very hard to say no to. All of this helped me become a great record producer. I’m the guy who started the Muscle Shoals music industry; everybody in Muscle Shoals is a spinoff of Rick Hall.”

Hall cited Sun Records’ co-founder Sam Phillips — responsible for first recording Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and many others — as an early mentor. “[Philips] was a terribly big influence on me,” he told the Country Music Hall of Fame. “All the things that Sam did, I wanted to be like him.” The pair, two white record producers from the south, would each have a deep impact on the history of African-American music of the twentieth century.

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Roy Orbison’s recording of “Sweet and Innocent,” which Hall had written with Billy Sherrill, led to the pair forming the publishing company Florence Alabama Music Enterprises to administer and oversee song compositions. After that partnership was dissolved, Hall moved FAME to Muscle Shoals, establishing a studio there.

“My first recording session was with Arthur Alexander — a bellhop at the Sheffield Hotel,” Hall said in a group interview with his studio’s house band, the Swampers. That song, “You Better Move On,” became a hit that would finance another studio relocation — this time for good.

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From there, Hall began producing some of the most indelible soul and R&B recordings of the century: Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” Etta James’ cover of “Tell Mama” (the original version of which was also recorded at FAME), Otis Redding’s “You Left the Water Running” and Wilson Pickett’s cover of “Mustang Sally” among them.

Duane Allman, co-founder of The Allman Brothers, famously camped out near Hall’s studio in the hopes of catching a break — which he did when Hall put him on Wilson Pickett’s album Hey Jude, which drew international attention for Allman.

Hall’s fame was resurgent in recent years after he was made the subject of the well-regarded 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier. “A lot of people contributed to this incredible story,” Camalier said in an interview about Hall and his film, “but Rick was the impetus for making this happen.”

He was nominated for Best Producer in 1974, his only Grammy Award nomination before the Recording Academy named him a National Trustee — an award given to those who “have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording” — in 2014.

Hall’s death was noted by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who wrote he was “truly a music legend and one of Alabama’s stars. He will surely be missed.”

John Paul White, whom Hall had mentored, wrote that Hall was an “architect of the sound that made me the artist and writer I am today. He took me under his wing and treated me like an equal, when I knew damn well I was not.”

The country star Jason Isbell, whose The Nashville Sound was one of the best albums of the past year, also cited Hall as helping to pave his way to a music career: “Rick Hall and his family gave me my first job in the music business, and nobody in the industry ever worked harder than Rick. Nobody. American music wouldn’t be the same without his contributions. His death is a huge loss to those of us who knew him and those who didn’t.”

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The Next Debt Crunch

The Indicator from Planet Money

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NPR

The U.S. economy is doing great — unemployment is low, businesses are investing more. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s like watching the first 20 minutes of a horror movie. Everything seems great. The kids are out swimming in the lake. It’s a beautiful summer. But you know something bad is going to happen sooner or later. It always does.

On today’s show, we talk about one way things might go wrong: We look at parts of the economy where borrowing is getting frighteningly easy — and where more and more people are struggling to repay their debts.

Happy New Year.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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U.S. Service Member Killed, Four Others Injured In Afghanistan 'Combat Engagement'

A member of the Afghan local police walks in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan forces are currently working to remove ISIS fighters from the area.

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A U.S. service member was killed in a “combat engagement” in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province on New Year’s day, and four other U.S. service members were injured, according to a U.S. military statement.

The U.S. military did not immediately explain what kind of combat the service members were engaged in at the time, and whether they were fighting ISIS or the Taliban.

Two of the injured service members are receiving medical treatment nearby. They’re in stable condition, the military says, and the two others “have returned to duty.”

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own,” said Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “At this very difficult time our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen and wounded brothers.”

This area, along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, has been particularly deadly for U.S. troops in the past year, NPR’s Tom Bowman reports. “Of the 15 Americans killed in the country last year, eight were killed in Nangarhar, seven of them by hostile fire.” U.S. troops and Afghan allies have been fighting Islamic State militants in the area for two years, he adds.

“Most of the 11,000 Americans work inside bases training Afghans, but some American special operations forces go on combat missions, accompanying Afghan commandos on raids against ISIS and Taliban fighters,” Tom reports. “This year, more American soldiers are expected to head out on operations with Afghan units against the Taliban.”

President Trump recently committed more U.S. troops to Afghanistan without a specific timetable. As we have reported, “the recent commitment of about 3,000 additional troops will bring the total number of U.S. service members in Afghanistan to between 14,000 and 15,000,” according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

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