In A Matter of Fact at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, Toyin Ojih Odutola presents an elaborately conceived and completely imaginary history of the UmuEze Amara clan, as chronicled in a series of portrait drawings in pastel, charcoal, and pencil. A wall text in the main gallery states that these works were selected from the family’s extensive holdings of art and antiquities by the present Marquess (a title of nobility, sometimes spelled marquis, designating a rank below a duke but above a count). By focusing on this specific part of the fictitious family’s collection, the text tells us that the Most Honorable Jideofor Emeka and his husband Lord Temitope Omodele hope “[t]o engage visitors in the experience of life within a great Nigerian house as well as present an intimate family portrait beyond the public image of respectability.”
Signing her name to this statement as “Deputy Private Secretary” to the family, Ojih Odutola sets in motion a story told in pictures: a graphic novel of sorts about indolent aristocrats surrounded by the trappings of wealth. In the brightly colored, high-ceilinged rooms she has imagined, gold becomes a framing device. It surrounds the many pictures hung everywhere, is woven into rugs and drapes, and even covers the molding that decorates most of the walls. There are gold buttons, watches, pens and piping, a gold cup and teapot, and even what appears to be a cloth-of-gold dress.