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“Imitation Lesson; Her Shadowed Influence” (2019)
Toyin Ojih Odutola, from A Countervailing Theory (2019)© Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Artist Toyin Ojih Odutola imagines a world ruled by powerful women

The artist’s installation at The Barbican tells the story of a fictitious prehistoric society in which women are the oppressors

In her first-ever UK-commissioned work, artist Toyin Ojih Odutola has created an immersive artwork for The Barbican’s The Curve. A Countervailing Theory tells the story of an epic myth imagined by the artist, located in an ancient fictitious civilisation in which powerful women rule over a subservient class of male labourers. The narrative of this invented prehistoric world is revealed across a series of 40 drawings, created by the Nigerian-American artist in pastel, charcoal, and chalk. 

There’s a strong thread of storytelling running throughout Ojih Odutola’s work. A previous body, Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True (2020) featured a series of vignettes comprised of images and text – fragments of narratives removed from the context of time and space, but revealing a spectrum of moments from the lives of imagined others.

Describing how the unique proportions of the London gallery lent itself to this aspect of her work, she said: “Walking into The Curve for the first time was an enchanting experience of having a space unfold as you travel through it, not quite knowing what will come around the corner. The feeling of possibility it provides to create and exhibit a story one can meander through in real-time gifted so much promise in how to engage with an audience.”

The site-specific installation, which spans the 90-foot long space, is lent an extra dimension by an immersive soundscape by acclaimed conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye. The exhibition will also be accompanied by a new text by renowned writer Zadie Smith.

A Countervailing Theory by Toyin Ojih Odutola is showing at The Barbican until 24 January 2021