Ojih Odutola



A Colonized Mind
Inspired by the writings of Franz Fanon, Edward Said, and particularly 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 visual language one can utlize to express their reality when the tools available are inherently colonist, in opposition to one’s selfhood and autonomy. How to mitigate this lens in order to create work that is honest to one’s vision? How might it manifest itself? These are the main questions asked of the series. 
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If a person’s reality is in constant transition, context becomes unrealiable and the body becomes a place. Migration activity, however enforced, is also a coping mechanism. The subjects of these drawings are neither within nor without, each depicted in decontexualized surroundings to emphasize their groundlessness, in constant search for security. The intense detail and close-cropped compositions of the drawings embody the need to find new ways to express a visual lexicon through the figure. Using the writing tool, ball point pen, to draw, the scenerio of a portrait expands to include more than the realities that may befall or define the black body in space and time. Collectively, these drawings offer a map for those willing to travel towards new destinations and meanings for blackness.

“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

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Black Surfaces. Black Grounds.
Using consistent materials—black ballpoint pen ink and black acrylic ink on black matted or glossed illustration board—surface details in the markmaking are drawn with various linework, shading, and other sinewy, tactile traces in an attempt to deconstruct “Black” as a concept along with its visual inconsistencies pertaining to light, shadow, and texture.

A subversive play with relative and filtered distinctions between looking at someone and actually seeing an individual—and how the illusion of image-making inexorably fails at exacting both. In each drawing, the problematic contradictions ingrained in the chroma are emphasized, as they cannot exist outside of a two-dimensional plane. The subjects of the series are interpreted bare in an isolated space, their purpose is not to be a spectacle for the viewer.
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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 seemingly 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 and how arbitrary an identity may seem once embellishments are altered or disregarded altogether.
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Guaging Tone (Of Another Kind)
The series premise asks: “when an aesthetic is inverted, does the meaning stay the same?” And, if so, does this extend to how people read images of themselves? To explore this, each drawing is comprised of metallic marker on illustration board.
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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."

The series captures 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 was a means for moving away from the decontexualized surroundings of past works, to give the drawings more subjectity through specificity of a narrative.
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Untold Stories
Mixed-media drawings created using pastel, charcoal, marker and pencil on paper. Isolated visual narratives with some diptychs and triptychs combining image with text.
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The Treatment
A single work, comprised of 43 drawings, depicting well-known, white men in their youth—all rendered in black, ballpoint pen and graphite—to illustrate how lack of individuality and dehumanization might occur when one is systemically indistringuishable from the sameness of a group.

There is no supportive text or enhancing narrative added; each drawing is titled in the sequence it was created. Awash in a singular color, these figures are stripped of the power construct and exclusivity whitness and masculinity affords in society. At the mercy of shifting reads and perceptions, these portraits become “othered,” included at the margins.
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A Matter of Fact
Chapter 1: presenting a fictionalized union between titled sons from two artistocratic, Nigerian families: the Emeka and Omodele, known as the UmuEze Amara Clan and House of Obafemi, respectively. Comprised of pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper, the series focuses on the Emeka marquisate, one of the oldest noble clans of Nigeria, highlighing their wealth and holdings if colonialism and chattel slavery interventions had never distupted the country. The bold, crimson-clay red wall color chosen is emblematic of the stature and wealth of the family.
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To Wander Determined
Chapter 2, Part 1: involving two fictionalized Nigerian, aristocratic families, with focus on the Omodele barony, House of Obafemi, who are known for their ambassadorship, wine, and travels. The soft, pink wall color was chosen to emphasize the family’s matrilineal power.
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Testing the Name
Chapter 2, Part 2: involving two fictionalized Nigerian, aristocratic families, with focus on the Omodele barony, House of Obafemi. Comprised of pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper, Part Two centers on the relatioships between parents and their children, mainly that of Lord Temitope with his father. The haint blue wall color is inspired by and pays homage to the rich Gullah culture prominent in Savannah, Georgia.
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When Legends Die
Chapter 3: the final chapter depicting the fictional Emeka and Omodole families and their collective legacy as the UmuEze Amara Clan and House of Obafemi. Drawn using pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper. The lavender/lilac wall color brings a finality in tone to the series, signifying the changing of regimes.
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Scenes of Exchange
Seven drawings created specifically for the 12th Manifesta biennial theme, The Planetary Garden,” which highlights 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 Palermo, Italy.
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This Moment No Longer Belongs To You
Travel documentation, auto-portrait project of 30+ drawings and sketches, charting creative shifts in material and method. Each portrait exemplifies how “capturing a moment” for and of oneself is futile. The archive has nothing to do with the moment experienced by nature of how it reduces each moment to function.
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A Countervailing Theory
A recently unearthed ancient parable set in central Nigeria’s Jos Plateau. Comprised of 40 monochomatic drawings, created using pastel, charcoal and chalk on gessoed linen and board. Read as a single body of work, it questions the nature of mythologies we tell ourselves.
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Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True
A series of anecdotal drawings: some images with accompanying, free-associative text, others isolated pictures and text narratives. Most of the works were created during COVID-19 quarantine in New York.
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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 & Jack Shainman Gallery.