In making herself a neutral translator rather than creator, Ojih Odutola subverts biographical expectations, placing herself at the periphery of the stories she tells. But her attraction to these communicator roles also has personal roots. When she was a child, newly arrived in the U.S., she struggled to understand English language aphorisms and slang. Later, she realized that drawing helped her to make sense of layered meanings that had once seemed inscrutable.
This interpreter framing may be absent in her Jack Shainman show, but its title’s testament to the power of stories, both real and imagined, raises similar themes. “The archaeologist’s role, the private secretary—these ruses aren’t meant to be glib,” Ojih Odutola said. “I’m trying to say that as an artist, my role is to help you see beyond the confines of a limited set of meanings and explore a wider array.”