Toyin Ojih Odutola: Portraits of Place and Race and Class

Toyin Ojih Odutola, born Nigeria 1985.

Working in the United States

All work is courtesy of the artist and Jack Shaniman Gallery, New York

 

The artist  – a most remarkable talent working in often large format with old tools (pastel, charcoal, graphite)  – was born in Ife, Nigeria and was brought by her family to the United States when she was five.  First to Berkeley, California and then finally to settle in Alabama. 

She has said:

“I went from being just this Nigerian kid in Berkeley to being a black kid in Alabama. You start to realize, ‘Oh, I’m flattened. I’m not a whole person anymore.’

“My identity is not based on performance, it’s based on something that’s pre-determined by someone else, and I don’t even understand what that is because I’m an African who came to America.

“Suddenly I’m African-American and black when I didn’t even know what the hell that meant.” 

The artist, whose subjects include black and white people, seeks to understand what colour, of palette, of skin does to our perception of  the person she has painted. 

Needless to say, my full sympathy is with this artist.

To be both African-born and black in the United States is a journey which leads you directly into the irrational ghastliness of the north American form of racial discrimination. 

I could say that nothing prepares you for this.

But the many Africans of us who are here have been prepared by our native and very sophisticated civilizations which have undergone millenia of human experience, accommodation and permuation since the time of the Australopithecines. 

 

And lucky we are, too, that among the many saving graces of the American civilization is the belief – followed usually by action – that the conversation about race (about every known thing under heaven) needs to be moved ever forward.

Even if punctuated with the going regressively back.

 

 

 

The Uncertainty Principle, 2014, pastel, charcoal, marker and graphite on paper.  Courtesty of the Jack Shaniman Gallery

 

 

All These Garlands Prove Nothing VI, 2012; pen, ink and marker on paper.  Jack Shaniman Gallery, NY and the artist

 

Toyin Odutola - The Treatment 14

The Treatment 14 (Prince Charles), pen, gel ink and pencil on paper.  Jack Shaniman Gallery, New York and the artist.

 

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To Wander Determined

 

Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of  members of two Nigerian aristocratic familes, allied by marriage,  is at the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art until late February, 2018.

These are portraits of fictional people in an emotional, geographic, psychological landscape which exists in the real world.

They also illustrate the extraordinary world of an elite.  They live, of course, in all our countries, different as their particulars may be in each.

 

 

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The Bride, 2016, and detail, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper, 2016

 

 

 

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Representatives of state, and detail, pastel, graphite and charcoal on paper, 2016-2017

 

 

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Surveying the Family Seat, and detail,  pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper, 2017

 

 

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Between the Margins, and detail,  pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper, 2017

 

 

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The Missionary, and detail, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

 

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By Her Design (with some light interference), 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

 

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Industry, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

 

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First Night at Boarding School, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

 

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Wall of Ambassadors, and detail, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

 

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After and detail, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

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Pregnant, and detail, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

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Unfinished Commission of the Late Baroness, and detail, 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

 

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Winter Dispatch, and detail, 2016, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

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Newlyweds on Holiday, and detail,  2016, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

 

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Unclaimed Estates, and detail (with some light interference) 2017, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

One thought on “Toyin Ojih Odutola: Portraits of Place and Race and Class

  1. Powerful images and insights into a particular way of life. I found these penetrating and unusual. Thanks for the collection

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