National Portrait Gallery commissions new portrait of Zadie Smith by Toyin Ojih Odutola

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National Portrait Gallery commissions new portrait of Zadie Smith by Toyin Ojih Odutola
Sadie (Zadie Smith) by Toyin Ojih Odutola, 2018-19, Pastel, charcoal, pencil and graphite on paper © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Purchased with generous support from Zekiye Cingillioglu.

LONDON.- The National Portrait Gallery, London has commissioned a new portrait of one of Britain’s best known writers, Zadie Smith by Nigerian-born artist, Toyin Ojih Odutola. The full-length portrait, which joins the Gallery’s Collection, is available to view online on the Gallery website alongside an exclusive interview with Smith and Ojih Odutola by Katy Hessel, art historian and founder of The Great Women Artists Instagram account. The portrait will go on public display in the Brent Museum and Archive, where Smith grew up in North West London, in December 2020 as part of Brent 2020, London Borough of Culture.

Ojih Odutola is, in Smith’s words, the ‘central light in a thrilling new generation of black artists.’ In her portrait of Smith she has included a range of subtle details. Shapes and shadows evoke palm trees which reference Smith’s Jamaican heritage and a large map of North West London is in the background. Ojih Odutola chose the title, “Sadie,” to signify the foundations of Smith’s life, as a woman from North West London with firm roots in Jamaica and England. She is drawn in a relaxed pose, donning her natural hair, to show an assured, talented woman on her own terms.

Zadie Smith was born in Brent, London in 1975 and was brought up in Willesden. At the age of 14, she changed her name from Sadie to Zadie. The first member of her family to go to university, Smith studied English at King’s College, Cambridge. She became a household name with the publication of her first novel White Teeth (2000), which picked up a host of awards including the Whitbread First Novel Award. Her subsequent books include NW (2012), Swing Time (2016) and the collection of essays, Feel Free (2018).

Born in Ife, Nigeria in 1985, Toyin Ojih Odutola moved to America aged five. Known to portray members of her family and friends, she predominantly draws imaginary characters for the purpose of her storytelling. Many of her portraits contain contradictory elements – improbably angular interiors and landscapes collaged from around the globe – to formulate images which resist any specificity of place or time. Detailed and labour intensive, her drawings are particularly striking for the dense patterning of skin that makes every face a glowing, moving topographical landscape.

Public collections holding work by Ojih Odutola include the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian). Her acclaimed 2017-18 solo show, To Wander Determined at The Whitney Museum of American Art presented an interconnected series of fictional portraits, chronicling the lives of two aristocratic Nigerian families. Ojih Odutola’s first UK solo exhibition A Countervailing Theory will open in August 2020 at The Curve at Barbican.

This is the first work by Ojih Odutola to enter the National Portrait Gallery Collection, purchased with generous support from Zekiye Cingillioglu, and the first work by Ojih Odutola to enter a British public collection. The Gallery holds three other photographic portraits of Smith in the Collection, taken at the beginning of her career in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

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