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MeaningLaylah Ali

September 17, 2009

While painting in her Williamstown, Massachusetts studio, artist Laylah Ali discusses the imperative she feels to make things, and the nuanced relationship of political and personal events to the work.

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Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Joel Shapiro. Sound: Tom Bergin. Editor: Mary Ann Toman. Artwork Courtesy: Laylah Ali.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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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.

“You make things, on some level, because you have to make things. There’s a kind of electrical energy in you that means that you have to do this thing. And I think that a lot of my creative output has to do with that.”

Laylah Ali

Laylah Ali

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Laylah Ali

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Meaning and Influences

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


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Ida Applebroog

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Richard Serra

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Bruce Nauman


Portraiture, Performance, and Violence

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