Two months ago Shauta Marsh, curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA), asked me to host an artist talk with Toyin Odutola. Shauta was coordinating an exhibition of the Nigerian artist's work to live at iMOCA from Dec. 6th until Jan. 25th. I was really nervous, almost to the point of turning down the opportunity. I'd never hosted an artist talk before and wasn't exactly sure what that even meant. I've watched videos and seen other artists being interviewed, but I guess I didn't consider myself worthy of asking questions. Shauta seemed unconcerned and very calmly said, "you'll be fine."
Instead of considering the fear, I did research on the artist. I found out who she was and fell in love with her work. Toyin is from Nigeria and grew up in a household that didn't respond favorably to her saying she wanted to study art. Once in the United States, she moved to Alabama and then to California to study. Then she found herself being represented by the prestigious Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City, where she now resides. Toyin uses ballpoint pen ink to create her amazing, very intense drawings. Once her work captured me, I felt terrible that I had somehow made the event at iMOCA about me. This wasn't about me or my nerves or what I haven't done before; this is about Indy.
Indy is showing the work of a nationally emergent artist whose work is phenomenal. Fountain Square was hosting a very cool, down-to-earth genius who is captivating the art scene right now. Her dark figures have eyes that seem to stare back at you. The hair on her subjects almost looks real. She creates texture with a pen! This was an artist who had just talked with Solange Knowles about inspiration and collaboration. It was quite refreshing that an artist -- who happens to be black -- that is so respected for the detail in her work is showing in our city and wants to talk about it.
Now wanting to get into the mind of Toyin more than anything else, I came up with a list of questions, such as "How does Africa inspire your work? How does Social Media influence it? What is black art? Who are your subjects and why do they seem to be to be looking at me?" Toyin was engaged, eloquent in her responses and really interested in what the iMOCA audience asked her. One two-part question was, "Was there an initial 'big break'? When did you realize that you'd made it?"
"This is my big break, right here. Right now," she answered. The crowd sat still, not knowing if she was joking or not. "My work is being shown in a museum in Indianapolis. This is very cool. This is it."
My exhilarating 45-minute talk with Toyin Odutola will be available for view soon on the iMOCA website, as well as at Mosaic City. Her work remains on display in the museum through Jan. 25th.