THe Engagement, 2015
The Engagement, 2015, is a charcoal on paper diptych, made around the same time I was constructing The Treatment, 2015—18, series. It investigates how the use of certain materials may influence the way we see art made by certain people or, to question our dependency on how things should or are expected to be and look, especially regarding subject matter and method in representational/figurative art. At the time, I was wary of how my otherness "colored" the potentiality of my work: with more attention laid on what people presumed I was as a person—and was supposed to be creating—instead of what I was actually creating (how it's created, how it's comprised). I decided to play a game: what if I drew the same images I'd been drawing at the time, only to engage with it, a viewer had to go through it—through my marks and material choice.
In particular, The Engagement plays on the conversations that can happen where a presumptive narrative seems to supersede the art form, whenever one encounters a work, of any kind. If the expectations are reversed--in this case, the expected black, pen ink mark is instead a white one--how does one find the image? Nothing else has changed: my style, choice of subject, composition, &c. are consistent with what I had attempted before. The portraits of this diptych—again like the works I'd done previously--are the occasion for my marks and ideas to happen, and what you are witnessing is the documentation of that action. For one to try and actually see what the document is becomes the act, by the fact that it isn't easy to see: you adjust your body, maybe crane your neck, in order to "find the image." You have to work for it, in turn, as I did in the making of it. Through your movement, your attempts to see, you begin to pay attention to the work involved and get less distracted by the narrative inventions which obfuscate that work--and are, in the end, besides the point. What I had hoped, in my naïveté, was in the act of trying to discover the work, it revealed itself to the viewer—slowly, carefully, deliberately—just as it was created; and through that, the viewer becomes a part of the art-making.
— Toyin Ojih Odutola