This Artist Uses Ballpoint Pens to Illustrate the Complexity of Blackness

By Kenrya Rankin Dec 11, 2015

In a week when Blackness has found itself pandered to and insulted, a new exhibit explores its vast complexity. 

Nigerian-born, New York City-based artist Toyin Ojih Odutola uses various media to great effect, but her figurative drawings created with ballpoint pens and charcoal loom large in her new solo exhibit —“Toyin Ojih Odutola: Out of Context and Without”—which opens today at New York City’s Jack Shainman Gallery.

As she explained to the International Review of African American Art in 2013, she came to use pens almost by accident: “I’m doing black on black on black, trying to make it as layered as possible in the deepness of the blackness to bring it out. I noticed the pen became this incredible tool. The black ballpoint ink on blackboard would become cooper tone and I was like, ‘Wow, this isn’t even black at all!’ The black board was like this balancing platform for the ink to become something else…. I did that for a couple of drawings and it felt like a release for me.”

After seeing the ink transform before her eyes, she quickly landed on the idea that the perception of Blackness can stand in the way of understanding its reality—both in the world and in her work. “Once you put Blackness on someone you don’t even see them, the Blackness is an obfuscating element that obstructs anything that’s behind,” Ojih Odutola, told Wallpaper. “To be Black today is exhausting enough, but then to be a Black image-maker…I can address this frustration that I’m feeling, not just as an artist but as a person, and engage in that in my work.”

“Toyin Ojih Odutola: Out of Context and Without” opens December 11, 2015, and will run through January 30, 2016, at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. And Ojih Odutola’s work currently appears as part of “Black: Color, Material, Concept,” which is mounted at Harlem’s Studio Museum through March 6, 2016.