This fall, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present “A Countervailing Theory,” a major exhibition of work by Toyin Ojih Odutola (born Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1985), Nov. 19–April 3, 2022. The exhibition features a recent body of work in the form of a monumental cycle of 40 large-scale, monochromatic drawings that chronicle a myth conceived by the artist. The installation will span the entirety of the museum’s circular inner galleries on its second floor, nearly 400 linear feet.
Ojih Odutola is known for investigating the relationship between drawing and storytelling, using materials such as pastel, charcoal and chalk to communicate elaborate, fictional narratives of her own creation. With this series, she explores how mark-making can open up pathways to new meanings. By fluidly shifting between the imaginary and the real, Ojih Odutola incorporates an unconventional approach to drawing material and surface, specifically working with white and grey materials on a black ground.
The fictional mythology underpinning “A Countervailing Theory” chronicles a prehistoric civilization ruled by female warriors known as the Eshu who are served by a class of male laborers known as the Koba. Set within a landscape inspired by the distinctive rock formations of Plateau State in central Nigeria, the drawings are presented as scans of shale tablets unearthed in an archaeological dig, which offer a glimpse of this ancient society. Ojih Odutola pulls from a range of sources, both historic and contemporary, to carefully draw viewers into an allegorical tale about systems of power, culture, gender and history.
“We are excited to be the only North American venue for this profound work by Toyin Ojih Odutola, who stands as one of the most consequential artists of our time,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “The exhibition celebrates the power of storytelling through art, and it is an apt tribute that Ojih Odutola’s installation will welcome visitors back to our newly reopened museum this fall. Moreover, ‘A Countervailing Theory’ marks a significant highlight in a series of forthcoming exhibitions devoted exclusively to female artists.”
Ojih Odutola’s work will be accompanied by Ghanaian-British conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye’s cinematic immersive soundscape, “Ceremonies Within.” Adjaye’s response to Ojih Odutola's drawings builds upon the references within her work to evoke the plateau landscape through a combination of instrumental and natural sounds. Previously on view at the Barbican (Aug. 11, 2020–Jan. 24) and Kunsten Museum of Modern Art (April 2–May 30), the Hirshhorn will be the exhibition’s final stop on its global tour.
“Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory” was commissioned by the Barbican, London and supported by Arts Council England and Jack Shainman Gallery. The exhibition is produced in collaboration with Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, and the Hirshhorn.
About the Artists
Toyin Ojih Odutola was born in 1985 in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and currently lives and works in New York. Ojih Odutola has exhibited at various institutions, including The Drawing Center, New York (2018–19); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017–18); Brooklyn Museum, New York (2016); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2015); Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2015, 2012); Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2013) and Menil Collection, Houston, (2012). Her work is in major permanent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Birmingham Museum of Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas; Honolulu Museum of Art and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. She was featured in Manifesta in 2018, won the Rees Visionary Award in 2018 and was shortlisted for the Pinchuk Foundation Future Generation Prize in 2019. Ojih Odutola earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her Master of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Peter Adjaye (aka AJ Kwame) is a contemporary conceptual sound artist, specializing in cross-disciplinary collaborations. He is a musicologist, composer, DJ-producer, and musician with a doctorate in mathematics. His unique set of skills and vast experience have enabled him to work closely with his brother, the award-winning architect, Sir David Adjaye OBE, for more than 15 years. This work has culminated in the publication of “Dialogues” on Music for Architecture Records in association with Vinyl Factory Records. Adjaye has exhibited his sound installations in venues including Tate Modern, London; the Design Museum, London; Art Institute of Chicago; Somerset House, London; Studio Museum Harlem, New York; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Albion Gallery, London; the Science Museum, London; and Nobel Institute, Oslo, and he has given talks at MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, Rome; The Architecture Foundation, London; Design Miami; Rough Trade, London and Central St Martins, London, among others. A limited-edition vinyl album of the exhibition soundscape composed by Peter Adjaye, “Ceremonies Within,” released on Music for Architecture Records/The Vinyl Factory, will be available to buy at the Hirshhorn. The album cover features Toyin Ojih Odutola’s work “Summons, To Witness One’s Own” (2019–20).
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. The museum will be open Wednesday to Sunday 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. beginning Friday, Aug. 20. Its outdoor sculpture garden is open daily 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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