Toyin Ojih Odutola
Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985, Ife, Nigeria) creates drawings utilizing diverse mediums to emphasize the striated terrain of an image and its formulaic representations. She earned her BA from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her MFA from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Ojih Odutola lives and works in New York.
Through black ballpoint pen ink, Toyin Odutola’s drawings question physical and sociopolitical identities as they pertain to skin color. Treating skin as topography, she layers ink as a means of mapping a person’s subjective, individual geography built from real-life experiences. Her interest in surface qualities stems from the history of African textiles, which inspires the artist’s rich textures on flat planes. Concerned with historical representations of black subjects in portraiture, Odutola undermines notions of blackness in her drawings by exploring what it means to look or be perceived as black, as, while drawn in black ink, not all of her subjects are of African descent. More recently, Odutola has begun to look beyond pen ink, working with charcoal and pastels to reflect the cultural diversity and ambition of American cities.
From the SCAD Museum notes on her exhibition, Testing the Name: The artist's unusual approach to the rendering of skin and its textures is an acute and considered comment on the representation of blackness. Her velvet, seductive surfaces claim territory within the art historical canon of portraiture, which historically favored whiteness. Ojih Odutola's radical black skins seemingly bend light, resisting a logical visual comprehension that speaks as complex metaphor.
The artist’s subjects are itinerant, cosmopolitan and, while intentionally not recognizable, drawn partially from her own inner circle. Ojih Odutola places individuals and couples in opulent interiors and rich landscapes, at leisure and in social interactions. Architectural details and objects surrounding her subjects receive equal attention. Of Nigerian descent, she grew up in the American South and developed a seemingly plausible narrative incorporating themes that, in reality, might not be so straightforward. The artist’s choices are a statement and decision to self-determination and, through their representation, bring into reality a hopeful present.