My Country Has No Name | Toyin Odutola


Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to announce My Country Has No Name, an exhibition of pen ink drawings on paper, metallic marker drawings, ink on black board and new lithographs by Toyin Odutola. Together, the range of works represent Odutola’s practice which is grounded in an obsessively fine and meticulous application of line that has become the specified visual language through which she explores the human form as a landscape. My Country Has No Name is an exploration of identity rooted in the friction created by hyphenated nationalities and a study into what comes from a reconciliation of seemingly distant and divergent cultural homes to form a new multilayered reality.

Her pen markings, dense and engraved, either stand alone or cover kaleidoscopic color fields that emanate from within. The acute depictions of skin and hair both portray the figure, often Odutola, as well as reference scientific renderings of subdermal muscular structures. While concerned with the historical representation of the black subject in modern and contemporary portraiture, Odutola’s focus shifts to the transcendence of skin (color) and placement (origin), opening a field for the viewer to place themselves in the work; finding spaces to belong or to reject, to possess, to implant one’s self or to find freedom from the rejection of that space.



Prove how much you have grown, 2013
pen ink and marker on paper
21 3/4 x 32 x 1 1/2 inches framed
Jack Shainman Gallery, NY


Odutola was included in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for notable names in arts and style. Despite her success, the artist remains humble. She thanks predecessors like Chuck Close, whose process-heavy portrait work was an influence early on, and apologizes for subjecting gallery-goers to so many pictures of her “mug.”


All these garlands prove nothing XII, 2013
pen ink and marker on paper
14 x 17 inches 23 1/2 x 26 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches framed
Jack Shainman Gallery, NY


All These Garlands Prove Nothing is a series of self-portraits referencing the range of hairstyles donned by the artist. By isolating the figure against the blank white background and repeating the subject, Odutola is confining the differences mainly to the hair and position of the body. The interest is less in style and more in the undertones and associations this specific physical embellishment provides when thinking about the pliability of identity. These works dance between the understandings of one’s own identity and the understanding of one’s identity as it relates what is being reflected back from another’s gaze. The artist also catalogues friends and family members; mostly young and mostly bored.

The portraits go from me having this crazy afro to punk dreadlocks with a half-shaved head, long braids, this Grace Jones ‘Eraserhead’ look—but it’s the idea of the artifice of a presentation and how malleable a persona is. I like awkward or candid moments that just look off. Disillusioned and blah—it sort of represents our generation. We’ve seen so much and we’re so bored.


In Come Closer: Black Surfaces. Black Grounds, Odutola uses black ink on black board to question the validity, the aesthetic and the meaning of the material aspect of blackness and how those connotations feed into social identities and as she describes, “a personal rejection of all the ideas I associated with blackness in myself”. The series Gauging Tone employs the same black board, but instead of black ink, Odutola uses a metallic Sharpie to cast lines and fill the negative space. Odutola questions the inversion of her own aesthetic and in doing so looks upon the equally problematic proposition of how black people see one another.

Portrait by James Thorne


Nigerian-born Toyin Odutola currently lives and works in Alabama. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States. Her Tumblr is made up of candid shots of works in progress that explain her methodology.


I’ll be honest—I started the blog because I grew up in the south where there was no access to any museums or galleries. So my ticket to people was the internet. If I was going to get into this world that I had no idea how to navigate, I wanted it to be honest.


Selected group exhibitions include Ballpoint Pen Drawing Since 1950, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 2013; The Progress of Love, Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, 2012-2013; and Fore and Gordon Parks: A Harlem Family 1967, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2012-2013. She is a recipient of the Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship Award; Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship Grant, Yale/Norfolk; and the Erzulie Veasey Johnson Painting & Drawing Award. She is included in the public collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii and The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

May 16 – June 29, 2013
513 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011
tel. +1 212 645 1701 fax. +1 212 645 8316
Tuesday-Saturday, 10am – 6 pm

One thought on “My Country Has No Name | Toyin Odutola

  1. Pingback: Toyin Odutola | On Inspiration & Identity | Ciné Kenya

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