In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Resisting the Singular Narrative
  • With an introduction by Deborah Frizzell

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Figure 1.

Hunting Season (Mother & Daughter), 2016. Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper, 59 × 70½ in. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985, Ife, Nigeria) makes enigmatic life-size drawings in charcoal, pastel, and pencil, rendering figures within implied pictorial narratives often set against backdrops of luxury and leisure. While the work is informed by her personal journey of having been born in Nigeria, then immigrating and settling into American culture in conservative Alabama, she deploys an array of sources drawn from art history to popular culture, literature to hashtag research. The nuanced details of the "worlds" surrounding her subjects form a kind of topographical map embracing the figures' bodies, clothes, and accessories in colorful, intricate patterns and textures. Pictorial spaces are subtly distorted, often distended at odd angles, and linear perspective may suddenly flatten out. Pastels are finessed with her fingertips making background landscapes appear like fabrics and fabric folds read like terrain, while her figures' black skin becomes a living landscape of shimmering richness with delicate sheen, varied tonalities and textures. Presented and scaled as grand-manner, historic narratives of the super-rich, this series features Ojih Odutola's imaginative fictions. The artist is conceptually and aesthetically experimenting, stretching the [End Page 65]


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Figure 2.

The Marchioness, 2016. Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper, 77½ × 50½ in. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

[End Page 66] boundaries of representing blackness, and questioning the contemporary mania of wealth and glamor, structures of class and value, notions of gender, and formulaic traditions of representation. The artist's drawings appear matter-of-fact, and yet the play of space, form, and color may create discomfiting undercurrents that provoke questions about the viewer's own perceptions and experience.

Ojih Odutola is a visual storyteller who layers possible meanings and allusions as conceptual underpinnings, envisioning a world in which blackness is not a unilateral or simple signifier of race. Her visual language suggests an imaginary that is compelling, vibrant, and relevant, especially in opposition to the Trumpian world-view. Some of her art historical influences include two nineteenth-century painters of modern life, John Singer Sargent and James Tissot, while contemporary admired artists who expand the parameters of the representation of blackness and "presumed identity" would include Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and the late Barkley Hendricks, the master of the depiction of cool. But for Ojih Odutola, the written word, her fictional trilogy, is an impetus to her visual image making. She has created an epic story about two Nigerian families, the UmuEze Amara and the Obafemi: the first of an ancient noble heritage and the second a nouveau riche family enriched via trade and vineyards, echoing colonialist mercantilism and structural economic inequality. The male heirs from each family have fallen in love and married, a fantasy nurtured by the artist in opposition to actual laws in Nigeria, where being gay and marrying is illegal. Aristocracy and the newly rich thus consolidate their wealth, businesses, property, and privilege, and as part of that consolidation they commission portraits in which their


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Figure 3.

First Night at the Boarding School, 2017. Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper, 63¾ × 41½ in. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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Figure 4.

Pregnant, 2017. Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper, 74½ × 42 in. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

[End Page 68] posture, gestures, gaze, and accoutrements signify the aesthetics of wealth and luxury.

Instagram has been a platform for Ojih Odutola to respond to questions and discussions around notions of the artist's intensions: what meanings could we attribute to a fictional Marchioness in white silk pajamas and a full-length fur coat sitting regally in her chair surrounded by her gold-framed art collection displayed on Matisse-red walls? Because the artist...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1751-7435
Print ISSN
1743-2197
Pages
pp. 64-71
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-23
Open Access
No
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