Interview with artist Toyin Odutola


You may recall a recent post showcasing the work of Toyin Odutola. Today I'm pleased to bring you an interview with the artist.  

Born in Ife, Nigeria and now based (and largely raised) in the US, Toyin holds a BA and an MFA in Painting and Drawing. She has featured in a couple of solo exhibitions and several group exhibitions across the US. She has been mentioned or had work featured in several publications including ARISE Magazine, ARTFORUM International, BOOOOOOOM!, Pop Africana: The Africana Global Book of Style, The New York Times, Think Africa Press, Vogue Italia and many more. Her work is held in public collections including the prestigious Smithsonian Institution, The National Museum of African Art, in Washington DC. Toyin has also recently published her first book, Alphabet, which she discusses below.



What's your passion?
I love to investigate the language of the face and I love to draw. I am constantly looking, searching for ideas and meanings, trying to piece together something concrete from the most abstract ideas. There is a strong impetus in me to squash uncertainty in some way.

What inspired you to become an artist?
The moment I realized that my way of seeing the world was valid enough and meaningful. When you look at the canon of the art historical record and all the major image makers of humankind, it feels daunting and you feel like you may not have something significant to contribute. I did when I was very young, always admiring artists from afar. But it wasn't until I left high school and began taking art courses as an undergraduate that I began to see that what I was creating (and capable of creating) could add something else to the vast dialogue. It didn't have to be something grand, it just had to be true to me and that was enough. It took me a very long time to see that, but once I did, it was the most powerful sensation. It gave me the boost I needed to take myself and my work more seriously. 


What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
Overcoming my doubts about what my work can do, how to consistently work on it, what it means and whether there is even a possibility that I can sustain it in this economic climate. I'm still dealing with this obstacle/challenge. In other ways, I've been moving across the nation from one region/time zone to another. It's been exhausting, but in the end, I hope it will be worth it.  

How have you dealt with/overcome it?
I just try my best to keep moving – to keep working is very important. You don't have time to think and languish on uncertain thoughts. One has to be working for the work to start to speak for itself or reveal something to you that you may have been searching for ahead of time. I find that whenever  I am in the middle of working, the best of me comes out because I don't have time to think about all those distracting elements that can hinder the work from coming to fruition and reaching whatever potential I may or may not have considered. 


What has your greatest achievement been?
I would have to say graduating with a Masters in Fine Art this year and having a solo show in NYC last year. I have no idea how I made it this far, but I am so grateful to everyone for helping me get to this point. It's craziness. 

Where will you be in 10 years?
I have no idea. I just hope that I will have a studio somewhere where I will still be working and growing. Everything's up in the air right now. The most important thing to me is that I continue to work, as I aforementioned. That is key.  


How does Africa inspire you?
Through it's diversity. There is this annoying concept that pervades the Western perspective on Africa as this monolithic continent. Where everyone who lives there, or is from there, is somehow related directly by blood or brood or something. It's simply not possible, logical and certainly not very helpful in today's age. What makes the continent so inspiring is that we are so many different people in so many different places, not strictly designated to the continent. Africa travels with us. The concept of the continent and it's people is constantly shifting, because we are constantly shifting ourselves and it's not limited to one type of person or local. That is incredibly freeing and makes for some very engaging conversations and artwork surrounding our various realities and differences. 

Anything else you'd like to share?
I'm just really grateful to be working and to be supported.  


Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
I've currently published my first book Alphabet, a compilation of my drawings, some text, and explorations into my creative process. 

I'm honored to be included in the upcoming Studio Museum in Harlem exhibition FORE, the Menil Collection exhibition The Progress of Love, and more coming up this Fall. 


Find out more about Toyin and her work on her website.

Images courtesy of the artist, Toyin Odutola


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