Identity has become a central focal point found in many artistic practices worldwide. However, what makes the good ones stand out is a particular stylistic and conceptual framework that transcends the chosen medium.
An example to prove this claim is the excellent drawing-based practice of the Nigerian-born American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola. By using drawing to capture her imagination and the fictitious myths related to the legacies of African storytelling, the artist tends to articulate her own identity in a more behind the scenes performative manner. Therefore, her multidisciplinary works examine familiar histories and propose constructed realities.
A new site-specific installation titled A Countervailing Theory by Ojih Odutola will be presented at The Barbican, as the artist’s first-ever UK commission. Ojih Odutola’s new work is an installation of epic dimensions that sprawls throughout the 90-meter long gallery along with an immersive soundscape specially crafted by renowned conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye for this occasion.
Toyin Ojih Odutola continually explores the notion of identity and the role it has in the historical context, for example in series such as The Treatment (2015-17), Scenes of Exchange (2018), and the recent one Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True (2020). By focusing on the Black bodies, Ojih Odutola reclaims the historical representational canons while at the same time accentuating the texture of the skin to achieve intriguing luminous effects.
The focus on corporeality, the landscape, and domestic interiors in recent series speak even more about the layers of personal and collective histories of the depicted subjects. The portrait paintings for Ojih Odutola becomes an artistic vehicle to elevate the medium of drawing, to express highly emotional states and tackle social and political implications regarding Black presence.
The Barbican exhibition consists of forty drawings executed in pastel, charcoal, and chalk. The narrative takes place in the surreal landscape inspired by the rock formations of Plateau State in central Nigeria and features a fictional prehistoric civilization, dominated by female rulers and male laborers. Each work stands as a separate sequence in the storyboard and tends to enable the visitor a possibility to edit their own narrative as they like.
Based on a wide range of sources, from ancient history to popular culture, Ojih Odutola examines the power dynamics within this community while commenting on the contemporary circumstances in her home country, but in America and beyond.
This exhibition will be accessible according to the new safety measures meaning timed entry slots, safe flow of visitors through space, and booked tickets in advance.
A catalog featuring a new text by acclaimed writer Zadie Smith and an interview with the artist will accompany the exhibition.
Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory will be on display at Curve, The Barbican in London from 11 August 2020 until 24 January 2021.
Featured images: Toyin Ojih Odutola - A Forbidden Impulse from A Countervailing Theory (2019) © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Mating Ritual from A Countervailing Theory (2019) © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. All images courtesy The Barbican.