Toyin Ojih Odutola’s multimedia drawings are informed by her experience of coming of age as an African woman in the American South. Early in her career, she began creating vivid portraits that investigate the social and political dynamics of skin color, the malleability of identity, and the nature of the color black.
The Treatment was prompted by an invitation to participate in the 2015 group exhibition Young, Gifted and Black. Ojih Odutola used the title of the exhibition to direct the creation of a series of 43 portraits that was ultimately completed in 2017. In drafting each image she employed her signature black ballpoint pen as a tool for negotiating the formal and social implications of blackness as both skin color and surface treatment. She sourced public headshots and media images of prominent, or “gifted,” Caucasian men in their youth, and then outlined their silhouettes in pencil before filling in their faces with black ballpoint pen. Ojih Odutola redacts the socioeconomic status and white privilege of these subjects through her destabilizing treatment, as “black” becomes the primary identifier for otherwise recognizable men. Portraits from this series are shown in sequence or as a grid to underscore, in the artist’s words, “how an individual can claim one’s identity when rendered in the sameness of a group.”