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Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory - The Curve, Barbican Centre

Exhibition preview

THE Barbican Art Gallery is presenting the first-ever UK commission by Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, a site-specific installation for The Curve.

An epic cycle of new work unfurls across the 90-metre long gallery, exploring an imagined ancient myth conceived by the artist. Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory will be on display in The Curve from March 26 to July 26, 2020.

Working exclusively with drawing materials, including pencil, pastel, ballpoint pen and charcoal, Ojih Odutola’s works often take the form of monumental portraits, which retain a remarkable intimacy despite their scale. She approaches the process of drawing as an investigative practice, through which to explore an intense engagement with mark-making and its potential for meaning.

Ojih Odutola recognises that the pen is ‘a writing tool first’, playing with the idea that drawing can be a form of storytelling. She proposes speculative fictions through her practice, inviting the viewer to enter her vision of an uncannily familiar, yet fantastical world. Working akin to an author or poet, she often spends months creating extensive imaginary narratives, which play out through a series of works to suggest a structure of episodes or chapters.

Drawing on an eclectic range of references, from ancient history to popular culture to contemporary politics, Ojih Odutola encourages the viewer to piece together the fragments of the stories that she presents.

Toyin Ojih Odutola said: “Walking into Barbican Centre’s The Curve for the first time was an enchanting experience of having a space unfold as you travel through it, not quite knowing what will come around the corner. The feeling of possibility it provides to create and exhibit a story one can meander through in real-time gifted so much promise in how to engage with an audience.

“The opportunity to share a new project with the Barbican in London is a huge honour of which I am most excited to partake and I cannot wait to share that feeling of enchantment with every viewer who visits. I hope in the process of experiencing A Countervailing Theory, one finds new ways of engaging with The Curve space, with eclectic forms of storytelling, and all the potentials art-making gifts us.”

Ojih Odutola’s previous work has addressed the malleable nature of identity and the role of place in shaping this concept throughout history. She has explored the socio-political construct of skin colour to question what is understood by ‘blackness’, scrutinising this notion through the lens of aesthetic, historical, political, conceptual and emotional principles.

Her works manifest a persistent attention to the texture of skin, achieving extraordinary luminous effects; the topography of the flesh conveys the nuanced histories of her subjects. Ojih Odutola’s meticulously executed works subvert the grand tradition of portraiture and painting, deftly elevating the medium of drawing.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican said: “I am delighted that we are commissioning Toyin Ojih Odutola for her first-ever UK exhibition. The Curve continues programming the most exciting contemporary artists, and Ojih Odutola’s engagement with the space as a canvas for her compelling narratives, told through different modes of drawing, will undoubtedly be a revelatory experience for the viewer.”

Admission: Free.

Image: Toyin Ojih Odutola, Semblance of Certainty from A Countervailing Theory, (2019), © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.