Toyin Ojih Odutola – A Countervailing Theory

‘A Countervailing Theory’ Imagine being surrounded by a sea of monochrome drawings that present a complete juxtaposition to what society knows as reality.

Toyin Ojih Odutola has crafted ‘A Countervailing theory’ – an arresting and immersive experience that redefines society’s patriarchal system and exhibits what it means to countervail, to offset the effect of something by countering it with something of equal force.

The 90-foot Curve gallery at the Barbican is home to the masterful 40 piece creation which Toyin Ojih describes as “a means to help you ask difficult questions”. The Nigerian born artist who resides in America was able to create her first UK exhibition.

But Ojih Odutola is not a spontaneous artist like many. She credits her time and dedication to research as a catalyst for a lot of her work. According to an article in the Guardian, in the case of ‘A Countervailing theory’, she credited a book that she had read about rock formation in Central Nigeria and found that these rocks had been arranged in such a way that ancient civilisations intended for them to be formed.

The artist had also listened to a podcast in which she discovered that in 1910, a German archaeologist discovered the infamous bronze head but could not fathom the fact that Nigerians had the mental capacity to create something so enthralling. Her research is a testament to the manifestation that is her latest artwork. She also admits to writing her ideas down before she begins to draw, providing her with a framework to bounce off.

The pictures are presented in a manner that visitors and art lovers see them as either a graphic novel or a comic strip but with an African twist. Ojih Odutola states that the images relate to the practices in Jos plateau, a central part of Nigeria with diverse languages and cultures.

In her art, the women are depicted as majestic warriors, fully clothed and dominant over the men. Their bodies are slim yet strong, and their facial structures prominent and fierce. On the other hand, the men in the pictures are labourers, slaving away in shackles and chains.

Maybe unintentional but there is a Biblical parallel between the men depicted and the Israelite slaves who were in bondage in the book of Exodus. Nigeria is renowned for its religious foundations, and she incorporated this in her art. What is even more astonishing is the fact that the men are naked, vulnerable and timid a strong contradiction of the ways in which African men are usually presented.