Toyin Ojih Odutola's Beautiful Second Chapter about African Aristocrats
At the Whitney Museum’s ground level gallery, a sophisticated story about two prominent Nigerian families continues it’s second chapter, in Toyin Ojih Odutola’s To Wander Determined. This solo show marks Ojih Odutola’s New York museum debut at this iconic institution, who at 32, is blossoming into one of our generation’s most treasured artists. The Nigerian-born, Alabama-raised, California-educated, and New York-based artist picks up where she left off in Matter of Fact, where viewers were first introduced to the fictional UmuEze Amara family, a noble Igbo clan. In To Wander Determined, we meet the Yoruba branch of the UmuEze Amara clan, as well as the upper middle-class house of Obafemi. Both dynasties are illustrated as fabulous globetrotters and bon vivants, who live well, dress exquisitely, and travel often.
Ojih Odutola guides us through both families’ sweeping and majestic storylines in her seventeen large pastel, charcoal, and pencil works on paper. The works, a series of portrait and still lives, visually stun in a lush palette of lavenders, mauves, and warm camels. On the Whitney’s website, Ojih Odutola explains she wanted to “explore wealth through the lens of color and race”, both affluent households clearly possess the means and we observe this as they elegantly pursue leisure and beauty. In Representatives of State, black women of varying shades stand boldly and stylishly wearing expensive threads in a ‘squad-like’ pose. In, Between the Margins, a young gorgeous boy in a green field beckons you with seductive eyes. Skin, black skin, has been Ojih Odutola’s signature focus throughout her career. She has previously referred to black skin as an “access point”, as a material, or set of ideas, not as a socio-economic tool of divisiveness.
Ojih Odutola also shares this thought, “black bodies being capital to black bodies owning their selfhood, and themselves, and the spaces they’re in, what that would look like.” We see this in breathtaking works such as, Winter Dispatch, where a well-manicured hand writes a note on posh letterhead, perhaps right before taking off for a luxurious expedition. We also see tidbits of black pop culture seep in, imagined versions of Solange and her husband Alan Ferguson (both in separate life-size portraits) as well-heeled members of these regal families. Although these are fictitious families, this exhibit mirrors real life, and it's incredibly aspirational, given that we are in the golden age of travel for young, educated, millennials of color who are out seeing the world.
To Wander Determined will be on view through February 25, 2018 at the Whitney Museum.