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INSTAGRAM: @jamillaokubo

Photos credits: Tyra Mitchell 

Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do.

I’m a Kenyan-American Interdisciplinary artist based in Washington, D.C. Through combining figurative painting, pattern design, and fashion influences, my work uses the body as both a narrative instrument and primary tool of communication. I like to articulate in my compositions an emotional language, influenced by memories, lived experience, and desire to stage the figures in meaningful moments to evoke a sense of nostalgia and intimate recollection of memory. The development of my work has grown gradually out of an unparalleled devotion to color, the black figure, space, and the creation of harmony.

Could you explain more about how being a woman has affected your career?

Being a woman artist has been really empowering, in the sense that I have been given the privilege to hold space for Black Women and celebrate them in my work. I say it is a privilege because I am living during a time where more Black Women artists are pulling up their own seats to the table and claiming space in the Fine Arts world.

Personally, it has allowed me to speak my truth through my work and feel safe enough to grow into the young woman that I am becoming. Most importantly it has allowed me to show younger generations that they too can become an artist if that is their dream career choice.

Can you name some other female (artist) that inspires you and explain why they do so?

Mirka Mora, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Grace Weaver. I discovered Mirka Mora’s world of art when I took a trip to Melbourne and I just fell in love with her style, what she depicted in her work, and how she also made dolls and plush figures. It was very whimsical and liberating to see. I really admire Toyin Ojih Odutola’s craftsmanship and attention to detail in her work. I’ve been watching her work for almost a decade, and it has been incredible to see her evolution as an artist in real time. The way she tells stories through her work using sound and visual language is incredible. I recently discovered Grace Weaver’s work and there is something so refreshing and real about her work that I am drawn to.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a female artist?

For me it has been navigating and understanding the Fine Arts World. I’ve had some formal training in Fine Arts due to going to an Arts-centered high school for two years, but I have a degree in Fashion Design. While I was studying at Parsons full-time, I picked up Illustration as a way to make income on the side, which blossomed into my career as an artist/illustrator post-graduation. Since then, I have been navigating this world that is very unfamiliar to me and learning as I go. Sometimes it can feel as though certain institutions and people are gatekeeping and you have to appeal to their eyes in order to be accepted or acknowledged.

What would you like people to notice in your artwork?

The beauty and thoughtfulness in my work. I really enjoy leaving space for the viewer to interpret and relate to my works in an intimate way.

Jamilla is wearing our ABEE knit and DAPPER dress.