The paintings of Rugiyatou Ylva Jallow, (b. 1990) are above all physical. Her subjects, always female, occupy the canvas confidently, their limbs arranged in a variety of languorous, balletic poses. Their eyes are covered by delicate, sometimes disembodied hands and this closure, this obscuring the vision of her subjects, acts perhaps either to silence them or to protect them from the spectator’s gaze, allowing them to remain lost in their private reverie, shielded from the external world. The same hands weave actual threads around the women, as if to define their features and their form, the hand of their creator always evident. Her palette is vivid and primary, filled with richly impasto-ed green, yellow, blue and red tones.
Born in Sweden in 1990 to a Swedish mother and Gambian father, Jallow has talked about both her strength of feeling for her father’s culture, language and spirit and of the powerful influence of her mother and her maternal grandmother in their love of nature and their artistic aesthetic. This duality and difference is evident in her practice, most clearly in the alternating shades of skin colour of her subjects, which can be read as quite directly autobiographical. She has cited artists as diverse as the Surrealists Dorothea Tanning and Salvador Dalí, and Kara Walker and Fatima Ronquillo as influences, and the static, entranced state of her subjects nods to a quasi-surrealist, subliminal eroticism, the sharp definition of the figures to the cut out forms of Kara Walker. Threading cotton through the canvas as if to give form to her figures recalls the long tradition of weaving, traditionally a female domain and skill, but also a certain sense of their being confined by the thread too.
Currently based in Los Angeles at Mohilef Studios, where Carl Kostyál runs a residency in collaboration with fellow gallery artist Canyon Castator, Jallow’s recent exhibitions include Blackity Black Friday, Sole Folks, Los Angeles, 2021; Les Femmes, Maxwell Dickson Gallery, Los Angeles, 2014. Commissions and public projects include: Adult swim, Juneteenth, Los Angeles, 2021; Use Your Gift Project, Los Angeles, 2020; Special Project 1310 S Hill St, Los Angeles, 2020; Integral Studios, Los Angeles, 2020; The Zeus Network, Los Angeles, 2020.
This is Jallow’s debut solo exhibition at Carl Kostyál.
Photo by Viktor Fordell © the artist. Courtesy of Carl Kostyál, London | Stockholm