Jae Jarrell’s radical fashions use the body as a vessel for protest, resistance, and identity. Her love of fashion was influenced by the legacy of her grandfather, who was a tailor, and her uncle, who ran a haberdashery shop, selling fabric and sewing supplies. She went on to study art and clothing design at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1968, Jae, her husband Wadsworth Jarrell, and fellow artists Jeff Donaldson, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams founded the collective AFRICOBRA (which stands for African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). The group formed in response to a lack of positive representation of African and African American people in media and the arts. Their goal was to produce works that conveyed the pride, power, history, and energy of their communities. They worked to develop a uniquely Black aesthetic, with bright “Cool-ade” colors and a lively sense of rhythm. As a fashion designer, Jae embodied those ideals through clothing. Incorporating diverse elements such as brick walls, graffiti, colorful bandoliers, jazz, Scrabble, and African shields, Jae’s work is a celebration of life and individuality, with a strident “Look good, feel powerful” message.
Jae Jarrell (1935, Cleveland, OH) lives and works in Cleveland Ohio. Her work is held in numerous private collections, and in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, where her garments were included in the exhibition Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties (2014). In 2015, Jarrell’s work will be featured in the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.