The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden presents 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 spans 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 gray 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.

Ojih Odutola’s work is accompanied by Ghanaian-British conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye’s cinematic 19-channel 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) with Adjaye’s 12-channel soundscape, the Hirshhorn is 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; 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, DC. 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.

Portrait of Peter Adjaye in black and white

Peter Adjaye 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).

Dive Deeper

Take a closer look at the story Toyin Ojih Odutola crafted for A Countervailing Theory. The artist spent more than eight months in 2019 researching and developing her narrative before even beginning to create the 40 images that express her vision. Welcome into Ojih Odutola’s world.