Toyin Ojih Odutola Biography

Toyin Ojih Odutola's works are drawn from ink, pencil, pastel, charcoal, and other drawing materials. Through her intricate figurative representations, Ojih Odutola examines the social codes and power dynamics embedded in traditional Western visual language.

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Born in Ife, Nigeria, Toyin Ojih Odutola moved with her family to the United States at an early age, first living in California then settling in Alabama. In her interview with the Guardian in 2020, the artist reflected on her experiences in the southern state as being formative, saying that 'It wasn't until we moved to Alabama that I really got a history lesson in America, and what it is to be black'.

While many of Ojih Odutola's drawings feature people, she does not consider herself a portraitist. The portrayed individuals are often composites of many people, brought into fictional narratives that span multiple drawings. The pencil, pastel, and charcoal works in To Wander Determined (2017)—the artist's acclaimed solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York—for example, follow two fictional aristocratic Nigerian families, featuring regal indoor scenes and individual and group portraits.

A similarly fictitious world made the backdrop of Toyin Ojih Odutola's black-and-white drawings in A Countervailing Theory (2020) at the Barbican in London. A reversal of conventional Western narrative tropes, the works tell of an ancient civilisation in central Nigeria in which women are not only the ruling class but also the creator, as implied by their construction of the body of a male humanoid in This Is How You Were Made; Final Stages (2019). Ojih Odutola told the Guardian that A Countervailing Theory was inspired by an interest in the question of who determines and sanctions whose stories.

In 2020, Ojih Odutola's portrait of English writer and essayist Zadie Smith was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The full-length portrait depicts Smith seated, with her arms and legs crossed; confidence exudes from her relaxed posture and smile. In the background, Ojih Odutola celebrated the writer's history by featuring a shadow of foliage that alludes to her Jamaican heritage, and the map of Kilburn, which is the London neighbourhood Smith is from.

Toyin Ojih Odutola Solo Exhibitions include:

Tell Me A Story, I Don't Care If It's True, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York (2020); Testing the Name, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2018); A Matter of Fact, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco (2016); Untold Stories, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Missouri (2015); The Constant Wrestler, Indianapolis Contemporary (2013).

Toyin Ojih Odutola Group Exhibitions include:

Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2020); I Am...: Contemporary Women Artists of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. (2019); Scenes of Exchange, Manifesta 12 Palermo, Orto Botanico, Italy (2018); Black: Color, Material, Concept, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2015); SELF: Portrait of Artists in Their Absence, National Academy Museum, New York (2015).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

Toyin Ojih Odutola

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