Ready For Some Art? A Countervailing Theory Arrives At The Barbican
If like us you’ve missed London’s art scene, the latest exhibition A Countervailing Theory at the Barbican is the perfect excuse to return to a gallery and immerse yourself in something truly unique. The first UK exhibition from Nigerian-American artist, Toyin Ojih Odutola, brings us a body of work that is story-driven, questioning familiar histories and presenting alternative realities. Here is why it’s worth going to see.
The Curve at the Barbican offers a narrative space
A Countervailing Theory brings us an epic cycle of work that unfurls sequentially across the 90-metre long wall known as ‘The Curve’ at the Barbican. Hung in this space, the drawings mirror a life-size storyboard or immersive graphic novel – which are in fact two recurrent sources of inspiration for Ojih Odutola. Each drawing is an individual episode with an overarching narrative, encouraging the viewer to piece together the story for themselves.
“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.” - Toyin Ojih Odutola
Toyin Ojih Odutola is ‘flipping the script’
As the title implies, this exhibition references the idea (often used in politics and economics) of countering an existing power with an equal force. The story she presents explores ‘flipping the script’ and challenging ideas of colonial history and predefined gender roles.
Set within a surreal landscape inspired by the rock formations of Plateau State in central Nigeria, the works depict the tale of a fictional prehistoric civilisation, dominated by female rulers and served by male labourers. Each community is forbidden from forging sexual or emotional relationships outside of their own gender. Drawing on an eclectic range of sources, from ancient history to popular culture, Ojih Odutola investigates the power dynamics at play within this community.
“I am delighted that we have commissioned Toyin Ojih Odutola to make a new body of work for our free programme of Curve installations. Ojih Odutola’s engagement with the space as a canvas for her expansive narratives will undoubtedly be a revelation for many.” - Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican
The artist’s medium is unique, like nothing you’ve seen before
Approaching her work as investigation, Ojih Odutola intensely engages with the process of mark-making to explore its potential to create new meaning and executes her work in pastel, charcoal and chalk. Recognising that the pen is ‘a writing tool first’; she works akin to an author, often spending months crafting extensive narratives that play out through a series of works to suggest a structure of episodes or chapters.
“I hope in the process of experiencing A Countervailing Theory, one finds new ways of engaging with The Curve space, with eclectic forms of storytelling, and all the potential art-making gifts us.” - Toyin Ojih Odutola
The drawings are accompanied by an immersive soundscape
Ghanaian-British conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye has responded to Ojih Odutola’s drawings with an immersive soundscape titled Ceremonies Within, which builds upon the references within her work and evolves alongside the drawings. The composition brings together classical strings, electronics, natural elements and West African influences. The result? A fantastical, sensorial landscape for visitors to escape within.