How Toyin Odutola Became One Of The Highest-Paid Nigerian Artists Of All Time



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

She uses medieval Nigeria as a central theme in one of her works, where male laborers known as the Koba serve a ruling class of female warriors known as the Eshun and heterosexuality is frowned upon.

According to The Slowdown, the plot unfolds in a fantasy world with a picturesque landscape reminiscent of Plateau State in Central Nigeria.

These artistic scenes can be found in how Odutola paints her characters’ skin and makes marks on their bodies. She draws characters on the black surfaces with ivory-tone charcoal, pastel, and chalk.

It is Odutola’s style of using a wide range of multimedia drawings to tell fictional stories that encourage people to pause and reflect on current issues. Odutola always wishes for her audience to be intrigued by her work. She induces trance in her audience.

Born in Ife, an ancient Yoruba city in Nigeria, in 1985, Odutola immigrated to the United States with her family in the 1990s. After being subjected to bullying and racial taunts, she began to question her identity. “Every day in the lunchroom and at recess, your blackness and otherness are in your face,” she told Vogue. “It was a three-tiered way of looking at life: You’re already a foreigner in America. And now you’re African among African Americans, which is another disadvantage. Even within your own family, you’re not the same—you’re becoming more Americanized.”

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

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

Odutola has had exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, The Drawing Center in New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Her collections have also been shown at the Princeton University Art Museum, the Spencer Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


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