Jamilla Okubo Is Illustrating the Power of Black Women Though Art | Her Stories | NowThis

Jamilla Okubo Is Illustrating the Power of Black Women Though Art | Her Stories | NowThis


(upbeat music) – Being raised by women taught me that I don’t need men in my life and I don’t need them
to tell me what to do. I felt that I needed to show
women like that in my work, and just show positive visual
representation of Black women. But then also making it known that it’s just my part
of the bigger narrative, because there’s so many
different narratives and ways to be Black. This is just my story. My name’s Jamilla Okubo, and I’m a mixed-media artist, illustrator, and surface pattern designer. (upbeat music) This is an affordable
sharing studio space. I basically share my actual
studio space with one artist and then we have a bunch of
studio neighbors inside, so. I was in sixth grade when I really knew that I wanted to take art seriously. I was raised in DC. My dad, he’s Kenyan, Trinidadian. My mom and dad got divorced
when I was really young. My dad, he was here for a
little while in the States, but then he moved back to
Kenya and started a life there. And then the first time that
I got to hang out with him I think I was like thirteen, and I think he just wanted
to make an impression on me. And so he showed up to my mom’s house and he had on some sort
of Masai warrior fabric, and me being a teenager, I was just like, “No. You
have to go home and change, “’cause I’m not going to the
mall with you like that.” I became more curious about my dad’s side of the family and culture. Really, just I really wanted
to know more in high school. I would say it was when I
transferred to Duke Ellington, that’s an arts school in DC, and that was my first introduction
to contemporary Black art and I was like, oh, I can
make art that’s about me, or like, about where I’m from,
or if I wanna say something. So I started to reach out to my uncle, and I was like, can you, tell
me more about Congo fabrics? And then he sent me some. And then I just got bold
and added my dad on Facebook and started asking him a lot of questions about the culture and stuff like that. (peaceful music) In July last summer, I went
to Kenya for the first time to spend time with my dad
and meet my relatives, and other siblings. (foreign language) It was just a really
exciting and emotional trip, because it’s like they all knew who I am and it’s like they welcomed me like it was a welcome back home. (singing in foreign language) When I came back I felt connected to my father’s side of the family and just to Kenya in general. I started wanting to use
the format of a Congo fabric as a platform to weave in the stories of my cultural narrative, where my mom and my grandmother come from, with also where my dad’s side
of the family comes from. It’s crazy to be back home, and this is the neighborhood
that I grew up in. Like I grew up in my grandma’s house. And now it’s like, she’s able to see everything that I’ve accomplished. Hi Grandma! – [Grandma] Hello. – [Jamilla] How are you? – [Grandma] I’m okay. – All of my works from college. And we just put them up on
the fences in the backyard and had like a mini-showing of my work. It was cool. See, that’s me in the
corner cheesing really hard. Oh my God. So funny! Then I also saw the strength
in some of the things that I learned about
where my family came from. For example, like, my grandmother. She would always tell me about stories of her growing up picking cotton. To see where I am now at this
age, and where she came from, it’s like a big deal, and it’s something that I take with me wherever. My mom, she was a single
mom and she raised me and then also had my brother and sister. When I grew up with my mom, she was in a domestic
violence relationship. So I used to see a lot
of violence growing up. Even through all of what we went through, she still made sure to nurture
what I wanted to pursue. And I think that even fueled the fire more for me to represent strong Black women. I have a lot of respect for
my mom and my grandmother and the sacrifices that
they’ve went through, and I know a lot of other women who also have gone through so much. Even all over the world. I think it’s just really
important to push that narrative. – A lot of hard work. It’s gonna, you know, it’s paid off. You know, all the hard work,
and all the sacrificing. We couldn’t have done it,
of course, without my mom. She was a huge help. She spoiled Jamilla rotten. (Jamilla laughing) So she got her started
on the fashion tip early. And I supplied her with all the art and the education aspects. So we was a team, of the team effort. – When she was tiny, you know, she was just like a little, I don’t know, a butterfly,
just going everywhere and doing everything, you know. And we just hit it off really good. (peaceful music) Since I had moved back
I was slowly working on building, working, creating, and getting all of these
different opportunities. So to have finally secured
my first solo exhibition back home as like my first one, it’s just really an honor. (crowd chattering) Hi, good, how are you? Thanks for coming! I’ve been focusing a
lot on African proverbs and African-American folk tales. A lot of people don’t
know that I’m the artist ’cause I’m really young, and so. I’m just like, “Oh you’re the artist!” I’ve always dreamed of having my works, in a gallery or in a space like this, but I don’t think I ever thought about what I wanted from that. Except of course representation and being able to tell my own story. So seeing people, strangers,
just take it in, it’s like, me. Especially for my grandmother to be here. ‘Cause a lot of the works, especially with my earlier
works, were inspired by her and stories that she has told. Thank you for coming Grandma! With art specifically, which I’ve learned, no matter what kind of day you’re having, whether it’s bad or good keep making work.

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