Odili Donald Odita - University of Houston
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Odili Donald Odita

(American, b. Nigeria 1966)

  • Negative Space, 2019

Text Transcript: Negative Space

My name is Odili Donald Odita, and I'm an artist in the exhibition Color Field, which is currently on view on the campus of the University of Houston. My work for this exhibition is titled Negative Space, which was made to address current issues in American politics, in particular the detention of migrating immigrants and the separation of their families at the U.S.-Mexican border.

I must acknowledge that this issue is important to me as an immigrant myself, with my family leaving Nigeria at the start of the Biafran war for safe haven in the United States. Back then, my family was welcomed upon our arrival in America and prospered as they became very productive US citizens who contributed their weight to the development of the American ideal. So, it comes with great distress to see what America is doing now, which goes against some of the core principles that I thought were intrinsic to the idea of America as a land of freedom with the opportunity to prosper.

There are thirteen flags and thirteen poles, which represent the idea of the thirteen founding American states at the start of its union. My flag is a facsimile of the American flag which is also comprised of thirteen stripes. The colors start on one side with red, white and blue, then morph into the colors green, black and orange. The second set of colors are complementary colors to the first set, acting as an opposite and contrast which underscores the aesthetic notion of positive and negative space. The formal idea of Negative Space continues in the A-frame canopy structure of the flagpoles. The A-frame, suggestive of house and home, is also a crossroads where the poles extend as lines into space creating an imaginary X in their placement. In my piece, the American flag is at the center where change becomes its consideration.

Can a walk through negative space inspire greater action toward the positive and a change for the better?

Series of thirteen flags on flagpoles
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

The design and color of Negative Space are inspired by the American flag. Here, red, white, and blue are met with their complementary colors: green, black, and orange. Complementary colors are found opposite of each other on the color wheel. When used together, the colors work to both enhance and contrast each other.

The number of flags corresponds to the 13 original colonies of the United States. Odili Donald Odita chose to engage with color theory to thoughtfully examine the crisis of immigration, the separation of migrant families, and the current state of naturalization in the United States. The artist believes that much like the unison of complementary colors, the integration of different countries, nationalities, and races can enhance and complement one another.

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