OYIN OJIH ODUTOLA (b. 1985), “Pregnant,” 2017 (charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper, 74 1/2 x 42 inches). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

FOR HER FIRST SOLO MUSEUM EXHIBITION in New York, Toyin Ojih Odutola plumbs the culture and heritage of her native Nigeria. She envisions a pair of fictional aristocratic families in a new series of life-sized charcoal, pastel, and pencil portraits. “Toyin Ojih Odutola: To Wander Determined” opens Oct. 20 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In the new body of work, Ojih Odutola considers class and wealth with an emphasis on place and space, juxtapositions she is drawn to in the works of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kerry James Marshall, John Singer Sargent, and Jonas Wood, among others, but only recently began to explore in her own practice.

Ojih Odutola refers to her drawings as conceptual portraiture. Rather than portraying specific people, the images focus on imagined characters. For years, using pen and ink, she drew black figures usually set against dark backgrounds, the subject’s black-hued skin defined by pattern, texture and mark making. The works explored blackness in terms aesthetics, identity, and a sociopolitical framework.

Toyin Ojih Odutola refers to her drawings as conceptual portraiture. Rather than portraying specific people, the images focus on imagined characters.

A YEAR AGO, “A Matter of Fact: Toyin Ojih Odutola” (Oct. 26, 2016-April 2, 2017), opened at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. She first delved into black wealth in this show, portraying the fictional UmuEze Amara clan in works that signaled a transition away from largely monochromatic images toward a more liberal use of color. Working with charcoal and pastels she adopted a more painterly style with vivid backgrounds.

The works on view in the Whitney exhibition continue to push further in this direction, introducing varied skin tones and more experimentation with bright color and background imagery giving environmental context. Described by the Whitney, Ojih Odutola’s figures “appear enigmatic and mysterious, set against luxurious backdrops of domesticity and leisure. In tandem with the artist’s larger conceived narrative, they highlight the malleability of identity and upend assumptions about race, wealth, and class.”

In a resource guide for the MoAD show, Ojih Odutola discussed at length her early observations of and lingering fascination with wealth and its implications:

    “2016 has brought to the fore ideas about wealth and worth more pointedly. Since my youth, I have been entranced by the presumption and disposition of those who choose to don such identities regarding wealth. They seem so permanent, so staid and true. You knew someone was wealthy because the privilege of wealth was evident in everything they did, not simply everything they owned. This included abstract elements: mannerism, graphology, speech patterns, taste, etc.; however, the most evident of these qualities was the surroundings of the wealthy and how those surroundings were treated. The spaces people of wealth inhabit seem to exist beyond fact: they were established and thusly never considered. These spaces were taken for what they were and never questioned. Being a migrant child of Nigerian descent whose developmental growth was dominated by a sense of precariousness and a fear of the unknown, the idea of living in such places and existing in such a solid state seemed fantastical: what would it be like to have such foundations to always fall back upon and to know they would always be there?”

BORN IN NIGERIA, Ojih Odutola was raised in Alabama and lives and works in New York. Five years ago, she earned her MFA at the California College of Arts. Her work is featured on the cover of the November edition of Juxtapoz magazine and she was just named an artist-in-residence at Barnard College. As a part of the academic program she will guide tours of her Whitney exhibition and give a public talk about her forthcoming book “The Treatment.” CT

 

BOOKSHELF
The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco published a resource guide to accompany its recent exhibition “A Matter of Fact: Toyin Ojih Odutola.” In 2012, Toyin Ojih Odutola published “Alphabet: A Selected Index of Anecdotes & Drawings,” her illustrated thesis document.

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA (b. 1985), “Wall of Ambassadors,” 2017 (charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA (b. 1985), “Years Later – Her Scarf,” 2017 (charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper, 72 x 42 inches). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


OYIN OJIH ODUTOLA (b. 1985), “Excavations,” 2017 (charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


OYIN OJIH ODUTOLA (b. 1985), “Representatives of State,” 2016-17 (pastel, charcoal, pencil on paper). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


OYIN OJIH ODUTOLA (b. 1985), “Between the Margins,” 2017 (charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York