[Hana] When I first came across Jamilla Okubo’s work, I felt an instant joy. Bright, colourful and bold with the use of African prints, her pieces offer both a celebration and a reclamation of black bodies. Today Jamilla tells us more about what inspires her and the stories she wants to tell through her prints and illustrations.
1.Tell us a little about your work?
I really enjoy working with an array of mediums such as painting, digital/hand-painted prints, garments, and collaging. Color is definitely a key element in my work as well as prints. My work mainly focuses on subjects of the Diaspora because I just love the beauty within our culture and people. I just feel as though it is my duty to remind people of color that we have such a rich culture, and that we should love ourselves and one another. So I strive for my work to have a balance of conceptuality and beauty. These are two quotes that I live by when it comes to creating artwork:
“The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If i love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”- James Baldwin
“The black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the “Negro’s” reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images.”- Sonia Sanchez
2. What inspires you and what is your process?
I am heavily inspired by my background culture and experiences in life. My work is heavily fired by my emotions as well. Whether I am passionate or really angry about something, I use those feelings as an advantage to create from the heart and express myself. I am also inspired by other cultures. Being able to interact with people from all over the world and experience other cultures is a blessing.
Depending on the project that I am working on, I may gather inspiration photos from the internet or books, and create a moodboard (it’s a habit that I got from school, specifically fashion). Majority of the time I will randomly get inspired, whether it is from a movie or an incident that I saw on the news, I immediately start creating. I have a very odd way of working because, a lot of people always tell me “you work so much”, “you’re always creating something”, or “how do you have so much time to create?” Honestly I don’t!. When an idea sparks I immediately stop whatever I am doing and create what I envisioned at that moment.
3. Textile prints seem to play a key part in your prints and illustrations. What does this mean to you and is it telling of your own journey?
While attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts I was to create a 15-painting themed series for my senior year. As I found myself searching for inspiration I came across Africa Fashion Week NY for the first time. The textiles, beautiful african models, and vibrant expression of a culture I had been long disconnected from - struck a chord in me. From this I began my wandering - an earnest exploration of my history and ancestors. Blessed by a teacher by the name of Stanley Squirewell, seeing the fire in me as a young person, introduced me to a host of artists that continue to inspire me today: Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Wangenchi Mutu, Hank Willis Thomas, etc. I played with how to take these narratives of blackness and interpret them through my work, my craft.
4. As a designer, what does the body mean to you?
As a designer, the body is an external way to express oneself. Also, being able to interpret and express your inner self through clothing and accessories is a wonderful thing. It gives all people the opportunity to treat their body as a canvas and not have to worry about others perceptions or opinions. The body provides a landscape on which my aesthetic inevitable conclusions come to life.
5. What can we look out for in 2014?
Well hopefully if all goes as planned, I am working on having my second solo art show in June. But as of now I am focusing on school, so you will of course see what I am working on throughout the semester. I always find a way to link my school projects with my own work. I cannot speak of all that I am planning on doing because I don’t want to jinx myself. Just know that I am always working on something!
Aspiring Textile designer, Jamilla Okubo, is an 20-year old African-American/Kenyan native from Washington, D.C. She is currently studying Integrated Fashion Design at Parsons the New School for Design. Jamilla’s prints invoke a life and sophistication in them. Constantly utilizing the vibrancies of African textiles to her advantage with color ways that would put a smile to both the viewer and wearer. Where her work gains depth lays in the subject matter of the prints. The prints, fun as they may be, acknowledge a deeper struggle which is rooted in black culture. She acknowledges the history, but similar to an upbeat song about heartbreak decides to shine a different light on the situation by claiming the story back for herself.