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b. 1935, United States

Jae Jarrell Biography

Jae Jarrell (b. 1935, USA) is an American sculptor, painter and fashion designer.

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Jarrell was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Her grandfather was a tailor, and her uncle was a haberdasher. Jae and her mother frequented vintage clothing stores admiring how the outfits were made. Jae taught herself to make her own clothing, and reveled in the fact that her fashion was unique, and had a secret, vintage past.

In the mid-1950s, Jarrell moved to Chicago and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While in school, she confided to a friend about her desire to open a clothing boutique. The friend suggested she use the reverse acronym of her given name—Elaine Annette Johnson—as the name of the shop. She took that advice and soon opened up 'Jae's of Hyde Park' on the south side of Chicago.

It was at that boutique where Jae met her future husband, Wadsworth Jarrell, who came in to shop. Together, Jae and Wadsworth became involved in the Organisation of Black American Culture (OBAC), which created the Wall of Respect in 1967. They also opened a small gallery below their home and studio, which hosted live jazz music and art exhibitions. It was in that gallery that many of the early meetings of the black artist collective that became known as AFRICOBRA took place.

AFRICOBRA's goal was to understand and express the visual principals that defined black culture. As an artist adept at fashion design, Jae created groundbreaking wearable artworks that interpreted the core ideas of the group. She also expanded on those ideas, developing abstract, idiosyncratic methods of translating black positivity into fashion objects.

Looking back at this time, Jae said, 'We made an effort to raise a consciousness. In our hearts, when we put this all together we thought it was going to be an explosion of positive im-agery ... I saw a result of our raising the consciousness, particularly about our history.' In the early 1970s, after she and Wadsworth moved the family to Washington, D.C., Jae returned to school, earning her BFA at Howard University. She remains active as an artist and designer, exploring themes related to black culture in her work.

Text courtesy Kavi Gupta.

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