Artist Toyin Ojih Odutola drawing complex portraits of black life

Artist Toyin Ojih Odutola drawing complex portraits of black life

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

Nigerian American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola is known for the rich, textural portraits of black life layered with complex ballpoint pens, charcoal, and pastels.

Born in 1985, Ojih Odutola is a storyteller who is mainly influenced by his childhood narrative traditions. The 2017 show at the Whitney Museum, its first solo exhibition in New York, told a dual, interconnected narrative about two fictional aristocratic families in Nigeria.

More recently, when the Barbican Center in London closed in March due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was only a few days before the first UK exhibition. “An Observatory Theory“Prepared to open. Now, with the delayed show, Ojih Odutola has held a virtual exhibition for New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery.”Tell me a story, I don’t care if it’s true“It was essentially composed of works created while the artist was at home for the past few months.

Ojih Odutola showcases new works during the crash at the virtual show of Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. Credit: Toyin Ojih Odutola

The unprecedented Barbican show is centered around the legend and contains 40 drawings based on an ancient legend the artist dreamed of in Nigeria. Meanwhile, Jack Shainman’s more intimate virtual show focuses on lonely, free-flowing stories told through images and texts.

Here, Ojih Odutola discusses both exhibitions, his rich black identity, and what kind of balm and art could be a space for the agency at the time of the crisis.

Ojih Odutola's 2017 show at Whitney in New York helped raise its international profile.

Ojih Odutola’s 2017 show at Whitney in New York helped raise its international profile. Credit: Beth Wilkinson / Toyin Ojih Odutola

CNN: What can you get us through your How will the Barbican show look when it shows up?

Toyin Ojih Odutola: Some pieces are seven meters tall and some are really, really small. Everything is based on a legend that I wrote about an ancient civilization last year, set in the Plateau State in central Nigeria. For me, it was necessary to investigate visual storytelling in an engaging and different and very existing way.

READ  Derek Chauvin: Correction officers say they were banned from the floor of the former police officer because of his skin color

Each drawing has these lines and they can look like a decorative motif, but in fact it is the system. When you see a drawing completely filled with these lines, you see the system that does not speak, is not seen, but these characters are all over the world. They affect and affect but do not accept. It’s just there. Of course, it affects everything.

When I deal with gender, power, hierarchies, oppression and imperialism, I hope the very subtle and subtle and systemic edition is talking about the insidious nature of it.

The Barbican show gave Ojih Odutola the opportunity to work on an imaginary scale and mixed large-scale and intimate monochrome works based on an imagined old legend.

The Barbican show gave Ojih Odutola the opportunity to work on an imaginary scale and mixed large-scale and intimate monochrome works based on an imagined old legend. Credit: Toyin Ojih Odutola / Barbican

How did your new virtual exhibition called “Tell me a story, I don’t care if it’s true” come about?

The show’s title came in February before it got locked on me. It was something that made it feel right and feasible for that time. A series of diptych, independent drawings and independent text studies. These are the stories that come to my mind, this was pretty new to me because I plan a lot of things. This show was much more introspective.

These stories are anecdote; they are isolated vignettes. There isn’t much context, just enough information to understand. There is a conversation between the image and the text. In one, you encounter a figure leaning on a sofa, and you may have ideas about what that figure thinks – the interior of that moment. And then you read the text and go back and forth between the two and create your own meaning.

Viewing is an event. Take a minute, take a shot. Hopefully it’s a way to question what you see and read.

Which oral or written traditions of myths affected you?

I grew up in a house where oratory is a vehicle. Gathering around and hearing someone telling a story is a big part of Nigerian culture. Also, I grew up in a house with two funny moms and dads who loved telling stories about something. I’ve always valued. And I realized how valuable it is to have and access this experience until I get older.

READ  Authorities say more youths in South are testing positive for coronavirus

When I first started my career, I was just drawing figures and not really thinking about the narrative. But I already have a wealth of information in my personal history and experience – and I can apply it to a visual narrative and really help people see the possibilities of figurative work.

Ojih Odutola showcases new works during the crash at the virtual show of Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.

Ojih Odutola showcases new works during the crash at the virtual show of Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. Credit: Toyin Ojih Odutola

I was very impressed by the comic books and animations. For the Barbican show, joining epic mythology was the way to be totally free and creating something from scratch. Unlike “Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It Is Right”, there is no text (on the Barbican show) – no reference for the audience and everything is worldwide and strange. But I hope that as they walk in this area, they begin to get used to my visual language.

In your work, you usually discover the texture and meaning of the skin. How did this develop with your application?

Initially, I wanted to find a way to visually translate how the skin feels. I use sinful lines; I was doing multi-layered and mostly ballpoint pen ink jobs. And then I started adding other drawing materials like coal and pastel and now finally adding colored pencils and graphite.

Ojih Odutola compares black skin to water and calls it

Ojih Odutola compares black skin to water and calls it “a mercury surface, a land … a place where a lot of beauty and positivity multiply”. Credit: Toyin Ojih Odutola / Barbican

When I think of the surface of the skin, I think of the work of multimedia artist Roni Horn, using water as a metaphor for an indefinite and constantly changing surface. I think of the skin in a very similar light. The skin is a land. A landscape where you reflect meanings. It has its own history.

When I look at black skin, I think of it as a mercurial surface – a terrain, a structure, a projection, but also a place where a lot of beauty and positivity multiply. It contains a lot and holds a lot.

READ  Coronavirus England: Boris Johnson on the lookout at 2nd-wave lockdown eventualities | Entire world information

After the death of George Floyd, there was a lot of talk about black trauma, depictions of black people in the media and how these images circulate. What role do you think art can play now?

There is a lot of noise – images can be noisy. But with art, only you and this work. You are in a dialogue with him and there is no right or wrong way to participate. Art offers people the opportunity to be inactive, to think and digest and understand this moment.

Ojih Odutola wants his art to provide a space where audiences can reflect and reach their interpretations.

Ojih Odutola wants his art to provide a space where audiences can reflect and reach their interpretations. Credit: Toyin Ojih Odutola

As an image maker, I made a deal with myself, if I will contribute to the images that are available on the Internet, I will not show black pain, death or trauma.

This is my choice. And if you’re an artist dealing with these things, it’s good. I am not saying it is right or wrong, but it is very important for me to provide pictures and text that give people something else to interact with, because we already know that trauma and pain are a sad and unfortunate thing that connects black people globally.

Black people are catalysts. In every society we are a part of, our culture has left an indelible mark. This is not a coincidence. Therefore, we should not always think that we come from a deficiency, that we are powerless. I’m not saying these are not real. But we don’t have to read ourselves as a community, a collective (and) diverse, bright diaspora.

As part of the diaspora, I want to give people space to engage with potential, to engage with our talents. Yes, they are afraid of us because they do not know what we can do. But We we shouldn’t be afraid of what we can do.

You May Also Like

About the Author: Abbott Hopkins

Analyst. Amateur problem solver. Wannabe internet expert. Coffee geek. Tv guru. Award-winning communicator. Food nerd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *