feature: meet artist jamilla okubo

October 14, 2014

Over the past weeks I have had the pleasure of getting to know the warm spirited, creative and very inspiring young woman, Jamilla Okubo. Meet Integrated Fashion Design Student Jamilla Okubo – over laughs and conversation about school (we are both students at The New School), the experiences of being black women, inspirations, natural hair, music, and much more, Jamilla let me in to her vibrant world which possesses such a unique aesthetic. I came across Jamilla’s “Love You” illustrations on Tumblr and felt that there was something so warm yet regal about the pieces. Thank you Jamilla for inspiring me and those around you. Check out my interview with Ms. Okubo below!

By Aliyah Blackmore, AFROPUNK Contributor

Name: Jamilla Okubo

Location: I am from DC but have been living in New York City for four years.

Occupation or title: Student and artist. I am an aspiring surface pattern designer—I’ve taken classes on dying and weaving but that’s not quite my thing.

So you are from Washington D.C, but noted that you have Kenyan and Trinidadian ancestry as well? Yes. I was actually born in North Carolina, and then moved to DC when I was really young. I grew up between DC and North Carolina—My dad is of Kenyan and Trinidadian Ancestry. I grew up in a lower class southern family, but going to school within relatively diverse environments–my perspectives on life sort of changed in a sense. I went to a predominately white high school and then transferred during my junior year to a predominately black arts high school and that is when I truly started to appreciate and understand my culture, within the context of the arts as well.

Did your upbringing influence your desire to pursue the arts in any way? Does your upbringing inspire your work in any way? I always grew up around the arts – my mom always had me involved in arts activities, whether it was summer arts camps or what not—there was always something to occupy my time. She was always strict about being active in some type of activity, which I loved. When I transferred to Duke Ellington for high school that is really when I started to understand and see my voice as an artist and explore possible themes. And also, Tumblr was definitely an inspiration for me. And this whole like carefreeblackgirls2014 hashtag or trend that was started on tumblr and like other social media sites… I was really like oh shit, that is really a reflection of what I do… so I am excited to contribute to this as sort of testament to my blackness and my voice as a female artist. I don’t want to be subjected to one type of art that I do—there are different subjects that I like to play around with—I am also trying my best to have fun as well, you know.

How would you describe your artistic style? How would you describe your personal style? I might have a perception of my work but it is also really refreshing to hear what other people take from my work and how they may interpret it. I like to think of my work as eclectic, funky, fun, and really bright– lots of colors and pattern. As far as my own personal style is just very bright and funky. Oh, and I like working small right now because it is very intimate.. but I hope to work on some larger scale pieces. I began a series tilted “Love You” which is about black love and it was actually in collaboration with a friend of mine who was working on a mixtape titled “Love Life Music” and sort of paired the illustrations with different songs from the mixtape. From there I further developed this idea of “Black love.” What Black love means to me… …hmm this is a tough question. Just like strong healthy relationships between Black people and that goes for women and men, women and women, men and men—just like getting rid of that negative connotation of relationships never working out and like getting rid of all of these stereotypes of Black love never working out—embracing love between Black people. I have nothing against interracial relationships but I wanted to sort of highlight Black love and the positivity and warmth within it.

What artists/musicians/designers/people inspire you? Hm, musicians I would say: Janelle Monae, Solange, Erykah Badu, and M.I.A. Specifically Janelle Monae and Erykah—they are such powerhouses in terms of their style, persona and they are just so real in many ways—spiritually and artistically. Solange as well, she has held it down—her style is on point and she doesn’t play. I would say when I am working on pieces whether garments for class or illustrations, I respond to these artists and their work—their music has inspired me– especially Janelle Monae’s “Electric Lady” concept and that whole movement. Music really inspires my work—it gives the pieces are certain energy. Artists, I would say—Mickalene Thomas, she was sort of the first black contemporary artist that I was introduced to and I loved her work and that has hugely inspired me. Also, my internship experience with Brother Vellies truly inspired me as well and just having the opportunity to network and having such a fulfilling learning experience. Designers, I would say—Tata Naka—they take a lot of inspiration from Kenyan fabrics like the Kanga fabric—and I am of Kenyan heritage so that has been inspiring to me as well.

What inspires your illustrations? What would you say is one of your favorite pieces? Inspires my illustrations…hmmm…Tumblr and just like the people and photographs that I see of Black people within various social media platforms. There is something so reviving and refreshing—just being able to create something that reflects the energies that I am receiving from people and inspirations. Fashion and music are huge inspirations as well. But a lot of my recent inspiration has come from the black tumblr community and I and going to continue to sort of indulge in that. I like creating positive artwork, I like for people to feel better about themselves—art is a self healing process—just like dealing with my own issues and I hope that through my art others can deal with their own issues as well—I want to create positivity through my art. What is the importance to you, of incorporating African textiles in your works? Telling a story through patterns and colors. Through my illustration and various assignments for school and for personal interest I can really find an identity through my work.

Moving forward, what would you say are your next steps? Graduating (laughs) and finding an employer that will truly appreciate my talents. Figuring out what I want to do after I graduate- I want to start my own line or work under a designer. Working on more illustrations and doing freelance illustrations for people. After this Black love series people reached out to me and I have really appreciated all of the love and support!

Instagram: vivaillajams Tumblr:

Jamilla’s work can be purchased at the below sites: (Prints from “Love You” and “We The People” are available)

Photos: Aliyah Blackmore

Illustrations: Jamilla Okubo