How Toyin Odutola stood up to bullying and became one of the highest-paid Nigerian artists of all time

Stephen Nartey January 16, 2023
Nigerian-American artist, Toyin Ojih Odutola speaking at her solo art exhibitions at SCAD Museum of Art. Georgia US. Source: Instagram/Toyinojihodutola

Toyin Ojih Odutola is a New York-based Nigerian artist who is changing the stereotypical narrative about Nigeria through her art.

In one of her works, she situates medieval Nigeria as the central theme where male laborers who are referred to as the Koba serve a ruling class of female warriors known as the Eshun and a society where heterosexuality is frowned upon.

The plot rolls out in a fantasy world with a picturesque landscape that can be compared to the Plateau State in Central Nigeria, according to The Slowdown.

These artistic scenes find themselves in how Odutola paints the skin of her characters and makes markings on their bodies. On the black surfaces, she uses ivory-tone charcoal, pastel and chalk to bring characters to light.

It is Odutola’s style of using wide-ranging multimedia drawings to tell fictional stories that call on people to pause and reflect on real-life issues. Odutola always wants her audience to embrace her work with a sense of curiosity. She places her audience in a trance.

Born in 1985 in Ife, an ancient Yoruba city in Nigeria, Odutola moved with her family to the U.S. in the 1990s. She later started questioning her identity after being exposed to bullying and racial taunts. “Your blackness and your otherness are in your face every day in the lunchroom and at recess,” she told Vogue. “It was a three-tiered view of life: You’re already a foreigner in America. And now, among African Americans, you’re African, which is another strike against you. And even in your own family, you’re not the same—you’re starting to become more Americanized.”

Art was her escape in all of this. “I was obsessed, capturing everything I saw and being fascinated with the incredibly simple task of looking at something and transmitting it onto paper. It’s an immediate magic,” she explained. With the help of her high school teacher, she met some black artists and writers and went on to major in studio art and communications at the University of Alabama. Odutola later won a full scholarship to California College of the Arts, where she received her MFA degree.

In 2019, she became the third highest-paid Nigerian artist of all time after her drawing ‘Compound Leaf’ was sold at Sotheby’s for £471,000 (now $573,000). The sale put Odutola behind artists Njideka Akunyili-Crosby and Ben Enwonwu, News Agency of Nigeria reported.

Odutola has participated in exhibitions at various institutions, including Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Drawing Center, New York, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her collections have also been displayed in the Princeton University Art Museum, Spencer Museum of Art, Honolulu Museum of Art, the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Check out some of her works here.

Conversations

Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates