Laylah Ali: Not Self-Portraits

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Laylah Ali: Not Self-Portraits

May - November 2017

The “Studies series” are mixed media (paint, pencil, oil pastels, occasionally collage) drawings that I originally started working on in 2011 and kept giving attention for a few years. There are about 80 of these little works, and for the Martin Luther King Jr. School project, which concentrated on portraits, I chose a selection of mostly faces that I thought would play off the work of the students. My “Studies” works concentrated on bodies (as much as my painting and drawing have done) though I did these with less planning and more playfulness. I also allowed more chance and mistakes to enter into the process of making them.

These works were originally made on the back of very small— 3 inches by 5 inches— (leftover) wedding invitations from a friend’s wedding that I didn’t go to (I asked for the extra cards because I liked the paper). But, for this elementary school project, I decided to use my selected drawings as the basis for a larger poster like presentation, to better see the color and expressions as one moved through the long hallway—so what you are looking at are digital prints that have been produced specifically for this particular presentation at the school.

In the workshop with the 4th and 5th grade students, we concentrated on completing a drawn portrait based on photographs that were taken of their classmates. Each student was focusing on another student in their class (so these are portraits, not self portraits). The students had been asked to pose as one of many possibilities like brave, curious, sad, tired, excited, etc. (The photographs were taken by Anke Schuettler). The challenge was to convey some of the emotional state that was being expressed (with the added challenge of using patterns— and we also spent time on how to keep working when you make what you think of as a mistake and not lose hope in your drawing).

Laylah Ali was born in Buffalo, New York in 1968 and lives and works in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The precision with which Ali creates her small, figurative, gouache paintings on paper is such that it takes her many months to complete a single work. Her most famous and longest-running series of paintings depict brown-skinned and gender-neutral Greenheads and have been included in the Venice Biennale (2003), and the Whitney Biennial (2004) and were the subject of a major touring exhibition in 2012-2013 that originated at the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA and traveled to the Weisman Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Ali’s works are included in the permanent collections of numerous public institutions, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, among many others.

Exhibition Opening of Laylah Ali: Not Self-Portraits

Workshop with Laylah Ali and Ms. Johnson’s 5th grade class