Artist Dossier: Toyin Ojih Odutola

Artist Dossier: Toyin Ojih Odutola

Born in 1985, Toyin Ojih Odutola is well known for her vivid multimedia drawings and works on paper that engage the complexity and malleability of identity. Through her strongly personal style of mark-making, Odutola investigates formulaic representations and how such images can be unreliable, systemic, and socially coded.

Odutola was born in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. In 1990, the family moved to Berkeley, California, and, after four years, to Huntsville, Alabama. She received a BA in studio art and communications from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2008 and an MFA from California College of the Arts in 2012. She has completed a residency at Tamarind Institute and fellowships at Yale University’s prestigious Norfolk Summer programme, as well as the Murphy and Cadogan programme at the San Francisco Foundation.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, The Firm, 2017-18, pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper

Odutola’s subjects are itinerant, cosmopolitan, and—though intentionally not recognisable—mostly from her inner circle. Her signature drawing technique rewards close scrutiny. She creates small patches of colour from carefully hatched lines to depict skin, each plane working to delineate the exposed volumes of her sitter’s body. Odutola’s approach to the representation of skin offers a compelling metaphor for her own experiences of diaspora and the complexities of assimilation. However, she draws clothes, furniture, and even the landscape in a looser, more broadly marked technique.

Recently, in March 2019, a new auction record was set for Odutola with Selective Histories (2016), which achieved $328,605 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening auction.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Selective Histories, 2016, charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper, 101.6 x 76.2 cm

Vibrantly rendered in charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper, Selective Histories is part of ‘A Matter of Fact,’ Odutola’s interrogative series from 2016. Exhibited in the year of its creation at the Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco, this thought-provoking body of work weaves an intricate narrative around the fictitious, extravagantly opulent Emeka family of the Nigerian Umutze Amara clan, to probe and question constructs of wealth and race in contemporary society. The resultant eighteen works on paper in ‘A Matter of Fact, are at once figments of Odutola’s imagination and—in a more nuanced sense—symbols of society at large.

Presented from a closely cropped and intriguing perspective, Selective Histories depicts a group of ornately framed landscape paintings, portraits, still lifes, and a large-eyed dog who rests sleepily on a striped settee. Hung in the prestigious salon-style, the paintings surround an intricately carved tribal mask. Set against deep vermillion wallpaper, the gilded Rococo frames speak of a domestic world of privilege, luxury, and grandeur. The right hand of an unseen figure positioned beyond the picture plane cuts through the bottom right of the composition. Adorned with two glistening rings, the figure’s index finger reaches out evocatively towards the cheek of the African mask.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, From A Place Of Goodness, 2018, ink and graphite on paper, 35.6 x 27.9 cm

Odutola’s other high-selling works include From a Place of Goodness (2017/2018), sold in May 2018 for $62,500 at Sotheby’s Studio Museum in Harlem auction; and Like the Sea II (2014), sold for $32,723 at Christie’s Post-War to Present sale in June 2018.

Toyin Ojih Odutola has received critical acclaim in recent years. Her first solo exhibition, To Wander Determined, was held in 2017 in New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is influenced by artists like David Hockney, Lucien Freud, Paula Rego, and Lynette Yaidom-Boakye, as well as the great 20th-century social critic James Baldwin. Her drawings, rendered predominantly in ballpoint pen, centre around the monochromatic exploration of Blackness, but by introducing bold, vibrant colour into her paintings, she has expanded her focus to consider and subsequently challenge preconceived notions of race, affluence, and history.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Like the Sea II, charcoal and pastel on paper, 58.4 x 73.7cm

Toyin Oji Odutola’s work can be found in the collections of the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; Birmingham Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. She has exhibited at several major institutions in the US, including the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts, Brooklyn; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield (Connecticut). 


Biography: “Toyin Ojih Odutola,” retrieved on March 25, 2019 from

Prices: “Toyin Ojih Odutola,” retrieved on March 25, 2019 from

Prices: “Toyin Ojih Odutola,” retrieved on March 25, 2019 from




Oyindamola Olaniyan holds a in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.

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  1. I love this artist. Thank you for posting.
    Please check out my site as well

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