Can you ever really trust a person to be exactly as they tell you they are? Abandoning the ideation of all that they can be, and muting the vitality of their subconscious- only accounted for and excused by circumstance? Fine Artist, Toyin Ojih Odutola, emulates this thought process and existential questioning in the bodies of work she creates. With use of pen, ink, pencil, charcoal, and pastels, Odutola inverts ready-made perceptions of blackness and challenges the boundaries sociopolitical labels demarcate, creating a new sense of fluidity in perception and reclaiming the idea of identity, as more than linear.
I’m not attempting to capture these stages of making for posterity or even for educational purposes. I wanted to leave something in this “undone” state to see what it would mean.
The framework she presents- with pencil marks exposed- incites questioning of intention and imagination of form, ultimately challenging the viewer to impose upon each piece, ad infinitum. She rips us away from the overstated literal narratives of portraiture and adds dimension by peeling back the layers, looking inwardly to see outwardly, extracting irony. Rather than telling us what to make of it, she reciprocates our question with one of her own: what is a person made of, the labels and definitions based on appearance?
What does it mean when the read isn’t as definitive and instead is multifaceted and nebulous, even mercurial?
While still trying to figure it out herself, there is no assumption of a superior ideal. There is only the transience of life and too, her work. Each of us with a multifarious individuality in which beauty lies in the becoming. Odutola shows blackness as disparate notion than the one we place on people and cloaks this blackness on famous white men in hopes to make clear that the subject is not the indiviudal in which we impose our beliefs upon, but the way we see blackness. Odutola creates works that speak for themselves as fluently and passionately as she speaks of them.
What I seek as an artist is what I seek in life, to expand in order to move about more freely, without the fear of retraction.
Toyin Ojih Odutola is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery
Nigerian, b. 1985, Ife, Nigeria, based in New York, New York
Quotes from Odutola from interview with Tanekeya Word for Saint Heron.