Ojih Odutola


Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985, Ilé-Ifẹ̀, Nigeria) is a visual artist and columnist based in New York. She is best known for her detailed, multimedia drawings often presented in eclectic, large scale series, or “chapters,” using pen ink, pencil, charcoal and pastel on paper, board and linen. Themes in her work have explored the malleability of meaning, memory, and power through portraiture and visual story-telling.

She has participated in solo and group exhibitions at national and international institutions, including the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, Barbican Centre, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Whitney Museum of American Art, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, The Drawing Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, the Menil Collection, as well as the 12th Manifesta Biennial in Palermo, Italy.

Ojih Odutola earned her BA from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her MFA from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In 2016, she undertook a residency at Headlands Center for the Arts; she was the Lida A. Orzeck ‘68 Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Barnard College from 2017—2018; and in 2019, inducted into the National Academy of Design.

Public collections of her artworks are held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Portrait Gallery, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Harvard Art Museums, Massachusetts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, among others.

︎︎︎ PDF of CV

︎︎︎ Instagram


On Storytelling with Erin J. Gilbert, Hirshhorn Museum
Smithsonian Magazine, by Roger Catlin

2021 — 2020
The Washington Post, by Vanessa H. Larson
The New York Times Style Magazine, by Lovia Gyarkye
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso
The White Review, by Orit Gat
ArtReview, by Rahel Aima
The Brooklyn Rail, by Amber Jamilla Musser
The New York Times, by Jason Farago
The Art Newspaper, by Louisa Buck
CNN Style, by Jaqui Palumbo
Artforum, by Cassie Packard
Granta, by Yaa Gyasi
iNews, by Hettie Judah
The Quietus, by Amah-Rose Abrams
Artforum, by Jo Baer
Flash Art, by Kareem Reid
Frieze, by Rianna Jade Parker
HyperAllergic, by Naomi Polonsky
The New Yorker, by Zadie Smith
Apollo Magazine, by Samuel Reilly
Conversation with Erin J. Gilbert, Nothing Concrete
Artsy, by Gabrielle Bruney
Great Women Artists with Katy Hessel
Talk Art with Russell Tovey & Robert Diament
WePresent, by Allyssia Alleyne


Please refer all inquiries, be they acquisition(s), artwork loan(s), press, image licensing, events, &c, to either:

Jack Shainman New York    



︎︎︎Click on book selection to learn more and/or purchase.




A Colonized Mind
Thinking in particular of James Baldwin’s statement:

“The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”

Exploring the limitations of representative, visual language: how one might express their reality given the tools available are in opposition to one’s agency, autonomy and sovereignty.


“Where some may see flat, static narratives, I see a spectrum of tonal gradations and realities. What I am creating is literally black portraiture with ballpoint pen ink. I’m looking for that in-between state in an individual where the over-arching definition is lost. Skin as geography is the terrain I expand by emphasizing the specificity of blackness, where an individual’s subjectivity, various realities and experiences can literally be drawn onto the diverse topography of the epidermis. From there, the possibilities of portraying a fully-fledged person are endless.”

— Artist Statement, 2011


Black Surfaces. Black Grounds.
Using consistent materials: black ballpoint pen ink and black acrylic ink on black matted or semi-glossed illustration board. Surface details in the markmaking are drawn with various linework, shading, and other tactile traces in an attempt to deconstruct a chroma and concept given the visual inconsistencies in light, shadow, and texture. Each drawing holds problematic contradictions ingrained in the chroma. The subjects of the series are interpreted bare in an isolated space, their purpose is not to be a spectacle for the viewer.


My Country Has No Name
While concerned with the historical representation of the black subject in modern and contemporary portraiture, [her] focus shifts to the transcendence of skin (color) and placement (origin), opening a field for the viewer to place themselves in the work; finding spaces to belong or to reject, to possess, to implant one’s self or to find freedom from the rejection of that space.

— Jack Shainman Gallery, 2013


All These Garlands Prove Nothing
A record of different hair stylings donned from 2008 to 2012, through the filter of memory. Each portrait conveys the same subject at issue with varying personas. The drawings were created using graphite, ballpoint pen ink, and marker on paper. Collectively, the series stresses the dubiousness of a singular picture of a person and how arbitrary an identity may seem once embellishments are altered or disregarded altogether.


Guaging Tone & Of Another Kind
When an aesthetic is inverted, does the meaning stay the same? If so, does this affect how people might read images of themselves? What might they recognize and what is forgotten or lost? Does this render images as easier to deal with or simply more convenient? To apply this effect, each drawing is made of metallic marker on illustration board.


Like the Sea
The series title is excerpted from an aphorism in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), which states:

"Love is lak de sea.
It's uh movin' thing, but still and all,
it takes its shape from de shore it meets,
and it's different with every shore."

Eleven drawings capture Ojih Odutola’s two younger brothers. They are surrounded by tapestries emblematic of the various locales their family has lived. These sites and the memories associated are interwoven into the moments of love shared there. The series shifts away from the decontextualized surroundings of past works. An attempt towards subjectivity through specificity of a narrative.


Untold Stories
Thirteen mixed-media drawings using pastel, charcoal, marker, pencil and graphite on paper for the solo exhibition at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis. The series presents isolated visual narratives with diptychs and triptychs combining image with text.


Of Context and Without
Drawings made of charcoal, pastel, marker, ballpoint pen ink, and graphite on board and paper. Each picture is in conversation with its given title. They ask the viewer which method is more reliable to arrive at meaning: through the provision of context or without?


The Treatment
Forty-three drawings as a single work, depicting well-known, white men in their youth. Applying the prompt from Nina Simone’s dedication to Lorraine Hansberry, “Young, Gifted and Black,” every picture is rendered in black, ballpoint pen ink and graphite. Each portrait treated as systemically indistinguishable from the sameness of the group.

The labor required to create the individual pieces changes nothing: there is no supportive text or enhancing narrative added; each drawing is titled in the sequence it was created. In a singular chroma, these figures are stripped of the constructs and exclusivity their definitions afford. Their image is included at the margins, at the mercy of shifting reads and perceptions.


A Matter of Fact
Chapter One

Nineteen drawings made of pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper for the solo exhibition at Museum of the African Diaspora. Presenting a fictionalized union between titled sons from two aristocratic, Nigerian families: The Honorable Jideofor Emeka from the UmuEze Amara Clan and his husband, Lord Temitope Omodele, from House of Obafemi. The series focuses on the Emeka marquisate, one of the oldest noble clans of Nigeria, highlighting their wealth and holdings if colonialism and chattel slavery had never disrupted the country. The crimson-clay red wall color chosen is emblematic of the stature and wealth of the family.


To Wander Determined
Chapter Two: Part One

Fourteen drawings from the collection of two fictionalized Nigerian, aristocratic families, with focus on the Omodele barony, House of Obafemi. Known for their ambassadorship, wine, and travels, the soft, pink wall color chosen emphasizes the family’s matrilineal power.


Testing the Name
Chapter Two: Part Two

Sixteen drawings made of pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper from the fictionalized House of Obafemi collection. Presented for the solo exhibition at SCAD Museum of Art. Part Two centers on the relationships between parents and children of the Omodele barony, particularly that of Lord Temitope with his father, Lord Ayotomiwa. The haint blue wall color is inspired by and pays homage to the rich Gullah culture prominent in Savannah, Georgia.


When Legends Die
Chapter Three

Thirty-three drawings made of pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper. Presented as a final chapter to the fictional Emeka and Omodole families and their collective legacy as the UmuEze Amara Clan and House of Obafemi. The wall color brings a finality in tone to the series, signifying the changing of regimes.


Scenes of Exchange
Seven drawings created for the 12th Manifesta biennial theme, The Planetary Garden,” highlighting the globally diverse history of Palermo. This small series presents possible encounters through the lens of trade between Italy and Nigeria. The chosen wall color reflects interiors often found in the antiquanted buildings of the city.


This Moment No Longer Belongs To You
Travel, auto-portrait archive of thirty-plus drawings and sketches. Each portrait is a place.


A Countervailing Theory
A recently unearthed ancient parable set in central Nigeria’s Jos Plateau. Forty monochromatic drawings made of pastel, charcoal and chalk on gessoed linen and board are presented in an undulating sequence. The series is conceived as pictographic scans of black shale tablets found in the region which counter previously believed origin stories. Read as a single body of work, it questions the nature of mythologies we tell ourselves.

For solo exhibitions at Barbican Centre’s The Curve, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum from 2020 through 2022.


Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True
A series of thirty-four anecdotal drawings made of colored pencil, graphite and ink on Dura-lar film. Comprised of images with accompanying, free-associative text with other isolated pictures and narratives, most of the works were created during COVID-19 quarantine in New York.


Missed Connections
As of 2021, Ojih Odutola contributes to her «Missed Connections» artist column in Elephant Magazine. Each biannual issue features a new scene constructed by the artist.


The Listener
Part of the year-long, exhibition project, Living Histories at Frick Madison, engaging with works in the Frick Collection through queer perspectives from contemporary, New York-based artists.

The world of A Countervailing Theory in conversation with Rembrandt’s paintings, specifically a 1658 self-portrait towards the end of his life and a 1631 commission at the start of his career.

The drawing titled, The Listener, posits how choosing to be quiet is a defiant power, and how making space for others to speak isn’t simply a small courtesy, but an act of sovereignty.

Site content is copyrighted Toyin Ojih Odutola. All Rights Reserved.︎Select photographs from slideshow and timeline Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Kunsten Museum Aalborg, Barbican Centre, Whitney Museum of American Art, Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Pinchuk Art Centre, The Frick Collection, & Jack Shainman Gallery.