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Laylah Ali in "Power"

Working in extremely detailed paintings that take months to create, Laylah Ali combines cartoon and folkloric aesthetics to explore notions of ethnicity and social violence. “I think when people say violence, oftentimes, we think of the violent act,” says Ali. “I’m more interested in what happens before and after.”

In her studio, Ali demonstrates the tricky process of working with gouache on paper and speculates that the physiological effects of color and light on the eye may have real social effects. “Could racism be just attributed to bizarre visual phenomenon? There’s a question.” Control, a theme in much of Ali’s work, also informs her own creative process. She admits, “So much of the work is about me trying to control it…and yet it still defies me.”

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Laylah Ali

Laylah Ali creates her small, figurative, gouache paintings on paper with such precision that it takes her many months to complete a single work. She meticulously plots out every aspect of her work in advance, from subject matter to choice of color and the brushes that she will use. Her paintings resemble comic-book serials, but they also contain stylistic references to hieroglyphics and American folk-art traditions. Ali often achieves a high level of emotional tension in her work as a result of juxtaposing brightly colored scenes with dark, often violent subject matter that speaks of political resistance, social relationships, and betrayal. Although Ali’s interest in representations of socio-political issues and current events drives her work, her finished paintings rarely reveal specific references.

“I’m acting on impulse in these drawings. And I think it’s important to keep that part really alive.”

Laylah Ali

Laylah Ali

2:58
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Laylah Ali

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Laylah Ali

1:54
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Laylah Ali

Artist Laylah Ali discusses her life’s relationship to her work, and how she creates the characters in her paintings.

Artist Laylah Ali discusses her work’s relationship to portraiture and the role of performance, symmetry, and violence in her paintings.

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