Laylah Ali's drawing show, opening at the Decordova Museum today, features flat, seemingly naif drawings of costumed characters, layered with handwritten text. Random thought, overheard conversations and snippets of news stories create complex, enigmatic poem-like narratives. In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid visits Ali in her Williamstown, MA, studio. "A slender, striking woman with close-cropped black curly hair and glasses, Ali, 40, is a keen observer of how people present themselves to the world and what lies beyond surface appearances: unspoken social communication, the trappings of class and power, and the inevitable revelations of vulnerability that come hand in hand with assertions of strength. It's what her art addresses. Although much of her work hints at trauma, outright violence doesn't interest her.
"'If I shoot someone in the head, we understand that,' Ali says. Dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, she sits back in a chair in her studio and chooses her words thoughtfully. 'It's the power dynamics that are harder to sniff out - that's where most of our human relationships are - the mid-level, low-level aggression that occurs all the time in our lives.'
Ali, who double-majored in art and English at Williams, insists that she does not consider herself a writer. Sometimes she hears things she'd like to quote. Sometimes she imagines what people are thinking: 'I find your voice irritating,' she offers by way of example. 'I think my students are thinking that of me...'"
"Ali writes list items down on scraps of paper, then assembles them with care, making a kind of found poem. 'There's something nice about brain to page,' she says of the notes. 'No race, no female body attached to the lists. It's a freedom of just being a mind working without connection to a body....'Some artists are driven by the idea that their work has to be seen,' Ali reflects. 'I'm more interested in what happens in the studio. It's a great privilege to let the life of my mind have some time to itself.'" Read more.