Saturday 6 October 2018

When Legends Die in visual narratives of Nigerian-American Odutola

Toyin Ojih Odutola’s drawing 'What Her Daughter Sees' (2018), from her exhibition When Legends Die.

 By Chinyere Elizabeth Okoroafor
At Jack Shainman Gallery, Manhattan, U.S, Nigerian-born American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola’s painting 'What Her Daughter Sees' (2018), under the exhibition titled When Legends Die, is one of the most eye-catching of her works, according to New York Times.

  The exhibition is the final installment of a project she began in 2016 that imagines two aristocratic Nigerian families joined by marriage. The paintings — in this case, combinations of pastel, charcoal and pencil on paper — are predominantly portraits of ruminating characters in domestic spaces. In a previous showing at the Whitney Museum, those spaces were often drawn with intriguingly skewed perspectives. But at Jack Shainman Gallery, they notably feature more portraits, including a 2016 drawing of the married couple.

The painting 'What Her Daughter Sees' captures a casually elegant young woman who sits, facing the viewer, in a plush dining room. She grips a teapot and looks into the distance with a tense expression. On the viewer’s side of the table are a cup and saucer, cut off by the drawing’s bottom edge. The painting, which is beautifully executed leads your eyes around, the figures are vivid and the colours are rich and textured, especially the brown of the woman’s skin, which has lighter passages that suggest the glitter of the sun on the sea. Odutola  puts the audience in the mother’s place to witness a private exchange. Another of her work, 'Objection to Bedtime' (2018), is a close-cropped portrait of a figure who seems suspended between boyhood and young adulthood, he lies down but expresses his displeasure with his eyes. 

Odutola’s show closes the loop on the project and affirms one of its apparent tenets- the potency of self-representation.
Odutola is a contemporary artist who focuses on the socio-political construct of skin colour through her multimedia drawings. Her work explores personal journey of having been born in Nigeria then moving and assimilating into American culture in conservative Alabama.

Another Nigerian in America whose works explores colour both in the figurative historical context and in the socio-political sense is Odili Donald Odita, an abstract painter. According to Odita, “Colour in itself has the possibility of mirroring the complexity of the world as much as it has the potential for being distinct. The organization and patterning in the paintings are of my own design. I continue to explore in the paintings a metaphoric ability to address the human condition through pattern, structure and design, as well as for its possibility to trigger memory. The colours I use are personal, they reflect the collection of visions from my travels locally and globally. This is also one of the hardest aspects of my work as I try to derive the colours intuitively, hand-mixing and coordinating them along the way. In my process, I cannot make a colour twice – it can only appear to be the same. This aspect is important to me as it highlights the specificity of differences that exist in the world of people and things.” Odita goes on to express his desire to speak positively about Africa and its rich culture through his work.

In recent years, Odita who was born in Enugu, Nigeria and lives and works in Philadelphia has been commissioned to paint several large-scale wall installations including The United States Mission to the United Nations in New York (2011), the Savannah College of Art and Design (2012), New York Presbyterian Hospital (2012), New Orleans Museum of Art (2011), Kiasma, Helsinki (2011) and the George C. Young Federal Building and Courthouse in Orlando, Florida (2013). He has been the recipient of a Penny McCall Foundation Grant in 1994, a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant in 2001, and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant in 2007. Also in 2007, his large installation Give Me Shelter was featured prominently in the 52nd Venice Biennale exhibition Think With The Senses, Feel With the Mind, curated by Robert Storr.

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