Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Latest Show Combines Automatic Writing With Arresting Portraits Made During Lockdown—See Images Here
The show is the latest exploration of the interaction of image and text in the artist's work.
As galleries around the world begin to slowly reopen, we are spotlighting individual shows—online and IRL—that are worth of your attention.
“Toyin Ojih Odutola: Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True”
Online at Jack Shainman Gallery
What the artist says: “In a time when it seems our priorities are placed on certainty and how to control output amidst a plethora of information that also feels protean and deeply influential, drawing out these vignettes was a means of understanding for me. The works were created using colored pencil, graphite, and ink at random, yet seeing them collectively, I sense a yearning. As if, in my attempts at understanding the activity of creating them superseded my intentions; the very conundrum I aimed to solve. Who am I to say what these works mean, but if I present them in such a way as to leave room for others to partake in the translation, does that counter the underlying yearning? Exactitude is elusive. Now completed, I’m not where I was when I began the series, but the frame of meaning has tightened. While discussing the series with Reginald Moore, he stated what seems at the crux of this project: ‘We tend to tell people the things that make us feel better in the telling. It may or may not be what they want or need to hear, but at least we feel better. Is that deceptive or just another means of getting along in the world?’ If this is where we gather our truths, then I understand it. In the end, you just don’t know. Sometimes, you have to trust yourself.”
Why it’s worth a look: Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola often weaves intricate narratives into her layered drawings. Her breakout solo show at the Whitney Museum in 2017 was based upon the forthcoming marriage of two men hailing from aristocratic families in Nigeria and included personal letters written from the perspective of the couple’s private secretary, a role that Odutola took on herself. In that case, the story was a dream, as homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria, but her deeply felt rendering of the intimate vignettes made the whole thing feel very real.
This time around, Odutola is similarly combining image and text. But for this show—which was completed almost entirely during lockdown—the text was the product of her own automatic, free-associative writing. The goal was to juxtapose images with written anecdotes in a way that highlighted misunderstandings or alternate understandings of the source material. The result is a series of drawings—tightly cropped portraits of figures in repose, checking their phones, sitting with earbuds in—that are made stranger and more complex by the addition of text. The show encourages us to use our imaginations to connect the dots, like one might try to reconstruct a dream in the fuzzy light of morning.
What it looks like:
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