By Ali, Laylah
School Arts , Vol. 105, No. 1
What Is Contemporary Art?
Contemporary art is the art of today. It is relevant to all audiences, providing teachers and students with a rich resource through which to consider new ideas and rethink the familiar. Contemporary art enables educators to actively engage issues that affect students' lives today, provokes curiosity, encourages dialogue, and ignites debate.
Art21 is a nonprofit contemporary art organization serving students, teachers, and the general public. To introduce a diverse range of contemporary visual artists and the art they are producing now, Art21 produces the Emmy-nominated, nationally broadcast PBS series Art:21--Art in the Twenty-First Century, as well as a wide range of education materials and outreach programs.
Artists Speak was created to introduce Art:21 artists through monthly features that combine images of their work, biographical information, and interviews. Like the Art:21 series, featured artists speak directly to the audience in their own words, reflecting on their lives, sources of inspiration, and working processes.
Use these features in tandem with the Art:21 series, Educators' Guides, and Web site to bring contemporary art and artists into your classroom.
Art in the Twenty-First Century
Art:21 is the first broadcast series for national public television to focus exclusively on contemporary visual art in the United States. To date, Art:21 has produced three seasons for PBS (Fall 2001, Fall 2003, Fall 2005), creating a biennial event that has featured 55 established and emerging artists to date.
Artists and Themes
Art:21 includes painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, installation and video artists, and artists working with new media, environmental or public issues, and hybrid forms. Filmed in their studios, homes, and exhibition spaces, these artists demonstrate the breadth of artistic practice across the country, and reveal the depth of inter generational and multicultural talent.
Artists Speak: Laylah Ali
1968, Buffalo, New York
BA, Williams College MFA, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
Lives and Works
Media & Materials
Gouache on paper
The precision with which Laylah Ali creates her small figurative gouache paintings is such that it takes her many months to complete a single work. In style, her paintings resemble comic-book serials, but they also contain stylistic references to hieroglyphs and American folk-art traditions. Ali juxtaposes brightly colored scenes with dark, often violent subject matter that speaks of political resistance, social relationships, and betrayal. Although Ali's interest in current events drives her work, her finished paintings rarely reveal specific references. Her most famous and longest-running series of paintings depicts the brown-skinned and gender-neutral Greenheads, while her most recent works include portraits as well as more abstract biomorphic images. …