Toyin Ojih Odutola explores the sociopolitical constructs of skin colour through her multimedia drawings. This central focus comes from her personal journey of having to move from her home in Nigeria to the conservative state in the US, Alabama.
“I’m doing black on black on black, trying to make it as layered as possible in the deepness of the blackness to bring it out. I noticed the pen became this incredible tool. The black ballpoint [pen] ink on blackboard would become copper tone and I was like ‘wow, this isn’t even black at all!’ The black board was like this balancing platform for the ink to become something else. I instantly recognized this notion, of how we think something is a certain way and in reality it is something else…” Ojih Odutola says in an interview about the show, My Country Has No Name (2013) in the International Review of African American Art.
Most of the figures she draws are coloured with black ink, but not all of them referencing being African or of African American descent. This is an extension of her question, “What is black?”. Her images require the viewer to interrogate the framework they consciously or unconsciously use to interpret skin colour and its connotations.
For her first solo exhibition in New York titled To Wander Determined, Ojih Odutola presents an interconnected series of fictional portraits telling the lives of two Nigerian aristocratic families. These portraits consider the fluid nature of identity through the use of charcoal, pastel and pencil. She engages themes related to space, class and colour with the figures portrayed in luxury homes. However, the angles of lines used to construct these homes on canvas do not always align, making the backgrounds appear slightly distorted. The distortion invokes a sense of discomfort in the viewer, and it is up to the viewer to figure out the meaning of that discomfort.