Born in Nigeria and raised in Ohio, Odili Donald Odita (b. 1966, Enugu, Nigeria; lives Philadelphia and New York) has been developing this body of work for 10 years, at which time he was engaged, along with critic Olu Oguibe and curator Okwui Enwezor, in bringing African and diasporic art practices to critical attention through the publication NKA, Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Odili Donald Odita’s large-scale, abstract wall paintings operate at the intersection of Western modernism and African culture. Borrowing strategies of destabilized perception from Op art—a tradition condemned by formalist criticism—and adding narrative and multicultural inflection, Odita both embraces and critiques the modernist tradition. His vast, animated expanses of fractured, rhythmic planes, equally informed by television test band patterns, African textiles, post-colonial discourse, sensory overload, and digital technology, speak to a contemporary experience of dislocation and decenteredness.
Third Color – Third Space
“Color in itself has the possibility of mirroring the complexity of the world as much as it has the potential for being distinct.”
The organization and patterning in the paintings are of my own design. I continue to explore in the paintings a metaphoric ability to address the human condition through pattern, structure and design, as well as for its possibility to trigger memory. The colors I use are personal: they reflect the collection of visions from my travels locally and globally. This is also one of the hardest aspects of my work as I try to derive the colors intuitively, hand-mixing and coordinating them along the way. In my process, I cannot make a color twice – it can only appear to be the same. This aspect is important to me as it highlights the specificity of differences that exist in the world of people and things.
“What is most interesting to me is a fusion of cultures where things that seem faraway and disparate have the ability to function within an almost seamless flow. The fusion I seek is one that can represent a type of living within a world of difference. No matter the discord, I believe through art there is a way to weave the different parts into an existent whole, where metaphorically, the notion of a common humanity can be understood as real.”
I want to expand upon painting to reinvestigate its inherent means, as well as contribute to its ongoing intellectual future. My commitment to painting has come with a growing understanding of quality and beauty that can be found through painting, and how beauty, when actualized, can communicate a complete consciousness.
Here is Now
At this time, I am still interested in how my paintings can look like the scrambled reception from a television set, a disconnect from recognizable imagery, and yet giving one the sense of a familiarity located deep within one’s own culture. In our overly mediated reality, I am all too aware of television and its doctored way of transmitting the information we consume on a minute-by-minute basis – a type of socio/cultural information that can successfully influence us in the ways that we think, act, see and feel within our environment. It is my intent to mimic this format through painting, but in my way the subversion I wish to conduct is a type of communication that speaks of and for Africa. African culture is so interregnal to western culture, and yet the continent continues to exist as a region denigrated in the mind of the entire world. I wish to re-channel the negative thinking around Africa, speak from the center of its present-ness, and expand upon what I know and understand about the history of this amazing and unquantifiable place.
-Odili Donald Odita
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‘Distant Relatives/Relative Distance’ at Michael Stevenson Contemporary
By Linda Stupart
Continuing on the big Modernist painting theme are Odili Donald Odita’s large abstract paintings, Attention and The Space Between Things. Odita is possibly the most famous of the artists on show and in what appears to me to be an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario, critic after critic explains that while Odita’s paintings may look exactly like hard-edge abstract paintings from the 60’s, they’re actually not at all similar. Olu Oguibe, for example, stated: ‘Odita rejects as vacuous, indeed non-existent, the kind of formalist or so-called “pure” abstraction promoted at mid-century especially in America, and insists instead that “all visual materials are culturally grounded, and it is important to recognize where their meaning is derived from.”‘ As such, the artist may denounce notions of ‘pure’ abstraction, acknowledging that colour and shape itself induce culturally coded responses; however, he is still producing big abstract paintings that communicate to me little other than big abstract paintings.
In the catalogue to the exhibition, Odita states that the paintings come from the artist’s ‘intellectual rumination for television [as a] cultural brainwashing device’ and also points out that his images, unlike traditional abstract paintings, ‘refer to something outside the work’, an assertion justified largely by the artist’s compositional devices that lead the eye to the outside of the picture frame. While it’s likely that Michael Stevenson Contemporary included this artist in the show for his international renown, the fact that his paintings contain shapes that sometimes lead off the edge of the picture plane does not seem enough for him to fit thematically into an exhibition that is ostensibly about its artists’ relationships to home, Africa and their own personal, cultural and political identity.