This Nigerian-born artist explores black skin through her work

comfortable in one’s skin Toyin Ojih Odutola depicts her scenes in pastel, pencil and charcoal, creating layered drawings that explore the construct of skin colourARTWORK: Toyin Ojih Odutola
comfortable in one’s skin Toyin Ojih Odutola depicts her scenes in pastel, pencil and charcoal, creating layered drawings that explore the construct of skin colourARTWORK: Toyin Ojih Odutola

In the texture of skin, the detailed architecture and the characters themselves, visual artist Toyin Ojih Odutola playfully but provocatively explores power and representation in conventional art.

Born in Nigeria and raised in Alabama, US, Ojih Odutola’s latest collection – Testing the Name – is the next chapter in a fictional story about two Nigerian aristocratic families who are joined together by the marriage of two men.

Now showing at the Scad Museum of Art in Georgia, previous works from this continuing story have been shown at the Whitney Museum in New York.

Scad’s website said: “The artist’s unusual approach to the rendering of skin and its textures is an acute and considered comment on the representation of blackness. Her velvet, seductive surfaces claim territory within the art historical canon of portraiture, which historically favoured whiteness.”

Combining traditional portraiture and modern techniques, Ojih Odutola builds an interesting narrative on personal observations, basing the characters on people from her inner circle.

She depicts her scenes in pastel, pencil and charcoal, creating layered drawings that explore the construct of skin colour. Instead of a subject that is either black or white, Ojih Odutola transforms skin into complex shaded strands.

“What does my skin feel like?” she questions. “We have enough about what my skin looks like but what does it feel like? So a lot of the layers and the scale is to really press down and get a feel of the texture.

Another evocative aspect of Ojih Odutola’s work is the scale. Known for her floor-to-ceiling, elaborate style, her portraits command attention.

She was recently honoured by Amref Health Africa at the ArtBall in New York where she received the Rees Visionary Award. ArtBall is a contemporary African art auction and philanthropic event that raises funds and awareness for Amref Health Africa.

Her next exhibition – The Firmament – starts in June 2018 and ends in September. The exhibition will take place in New Hampshire.

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