For the seventh annual Women in Art Issue, ELLE magazine celebrates 11 artists, curators, museum honchos-women on a mission now more vital than ever: to investigate and illuminate the world we’re living in.

Among these pacesetters, is 32-year-old Toyin Ojih Odutola, an Ile Ife born visual artist. After receiving her MFA from San Francisco’s California College of the Arts in 2012, she made a name for herself using markers and ballpoint pens to draw figures with skin so alive and fluid, it’s been described as resembling a weaving, or a galaxy.

At first, I wanted to mess with the sinewy, sensual aspects of skin as a surface, Later, it became a platform to inject all kinds of other ideas—about race, or the way no person is just one thing. – Toyin Ojih Odutola

Last year, she began a series informed by a fictional narrative: portraits from the collection of an imaginary duo of aristocratic husbands; one Igbo, the other Yoruba, depicting individuals amid markers of luxury and wealth.

My childhood was defined by the precariousness of not owning the spaces I was in, I was fascinated to imagine a family who never felt their presence anywhere was questioned. – Toyin Ojih Odutola

For her first solo show at Manhattan’s Whitney Museum To Wander Determined, Toyin presented the interconnected series of fictional portraits, chronicling the lives of two aristocratic Nigerian families.

Pregnant, 2017. Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper, 74 1/2 x 42 in. ©Toyin Ojih Odutola. Credit:

Rendering life-size in charcoal, pastel, and pencil, Ojih Odutola’s figures appear enigmatic and mysterious, set against luxurious backdrops of domesticity and leisure. They, and the worlds they inhabit are informed by the artist’s own array of inspirations, which range from art history to popular culture to experiences of migration and dislocation.

The exhibition was co-organized by assistant curator of the museum Rujeko Hockley, who thinks Toyin’s works are simply gorgeous. Rujeko said:

Her work resonates on a lot of levels, It’s gorgeous, which I’m all for. Beauty is an underappreciated thing. But the person who looks closer will also be rewarded. – Toyin Ojih Odutola

(L) Toyin Ojih Odutola, (R) Rujeko Hockley

Photographed at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City, Toyin is wearing a Balenciaga blouse, Giuseppe Zanotti boots, and her own head scarf.

Hockley is putting on a Calvin Klein turtleneck, Acne studio skirt, Hirotaka earrings, Aurélie Bidermann bracelet and Manolo Blahnik mules.

Other 2017 Women in Art include Iranian-born Shirin NeshatRoya Sachs and Katherine Bernhardt, 79-year-old Paula Cooper, Swiss-born collector Maja Hoffmann, Shantell MartinTaryn SimonBunny Rogers, and Paola Antonelli.

Read their profiles on