Laylah Ali

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Laylah Ali
Born1968 (age 50–51)
Education(MFA) Washington University
(BA) Williams College
Known forPainting
Notable work
The Greenheads Series
Awards2008 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant
2007 United States Artists Fellowship
2002 William H. Johnson Prize
2001 Premio Regione Piemonte (Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Per L’Arte,Turin, Italy)
2000 ICA Artist Prize (Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts)

Laylah Ali (born 1968, Buffalo, New York[1]) is a contemporary visual artist known for paintings in which ambiguous race relations are depicted with a graphic clarity and cartoon strip format.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

In her youth, Ali originally intended to be a lawyer or a doctor.[3]

Ali received her B.A. (English and Studio Art) from Williams College, Williamstown, MA in 1991.[4] She participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City in 1992, and completed a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME in 1993. Ali received her M.F.A. in 1994 from Washington University in St. Louis, MO. She lives and works in Williamstown, Massachusetts,[1] and is currently a professor at Williams College.[5]


In Ali's earlier work, she would draw or paint something violent. She focused more on the action, than the violence itself. In her current work, there is not a lot of focus on the act; she is more attentive to what happens before and after.[6]

The works are small scale gouache paintings and drawings on paper. She is known to prepare for many months, planning out every detail so there is no room for mistakes. Ali's work is based on life experiences. Although one may not be able to tell, she says all of her work holds meaning and that what's in her mind transcends from her hands on paper.[7] About the performative nature of her work, Ali says, "The paintings can be like crude stages or sets, the figures like characters in a play. I think of them equally as characters and figures."[8]

The Greenheads Series[edit]

The subject of Ali's most well-known gouache paintings are the Greenheads – characters designed to minimize or eliminate categorical differences of gender, height, age, and in some ways race.[9] Ali created more than 80 of these paintings between 1996 and 2005. Ali drew on imagery and topics from newspapers, such as images of protest signs or world leaders hugging, but tweaked the stories in order to create something distant and new. Ali designed the characters and images to be specific and yet vague. They have meaning from Ali herself but the viewer brings their own references to interpret the image as well. Ali designed the characters to look human-like but not quite human so that they would be removed from our world and social context. They have a socio-political meaning yet they exist outside of our world.[10]


Since 2015, Ali has been working on a series of paintings she calls Acephalous, featuring figures she describes as gender conscious, potentially sexual or sexualized, some of which have racial characteristics and some of which do not have heads. "They are on an endless, determined trek, a multi-part journey," she says. "It has elements of a forced migration."[8]


Laylah Ali has collaborated with dancer/ choreographer Dean Moss at The Kitchen in 2005 with Figures on a Field and in 2014 with johnbrown.[11] In 2002, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, commissioned Ali to create a wordless graphic novelette.[12]


Ali’s works are included in the permanent collections of numerous public institutions, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the [[Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, among many others.[13]


Solo and group exhibitions[edit]

Laylah Ali has exhibited in both the Venice Biennial (2003) and the Whitney Biennial (2004)[7] Other exhibitions are as follows:


Ali has been awarded a number of grants, residencies and awards, including the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant[15] in 2008, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Residency in 2018,[16] and the United States Artists Residency.[17]


  1. ^ a b Baker, Alex (2007) Laylah Ali: Typology. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. p. 47. ISBN 9780943836300
  2. ^ Cotter, Holland (2000). "ART IN REVIEW; Laylah Ali" (June 30). The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Laylah Ali on Greenheads, Violence in Art, and More". BU Today. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  4. ^ "Paul Kasmin Gallery - Laylah Ali". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  5. ^ "Laylah Ali: The Greenheads Series". Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  6. ^ Sollins, Susan (2005). Art 21: art in the 21st century 3. Purchase College. p. 28. ISBN 081095916X.
  7. ^ a b "Laylah Ali". ART21, Inc. 2001–2015. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Juxtapoz Magazine - Laylah Ali: Bodies in Notion". Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  9. ^ Ali, Laylah. "Interview." Laylah Ali. By Rebecca Walker. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2001.
  10. ^ Ali, Laylah; Rothschild, Deborah; Museum of Art. (2012). Laylah Ali, the Greenheads series: [accompanies the exhibition "Laylah Ali: the Greenheads series" presented at Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, August 18 - November 25, 2012; Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, March 2 - June 30, 2013; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, September 7 - December 22, 2013. S.l.: s.n. ISBN 9780913697306.
  11. ^ Cornuelle, Kimberly (4 November 2010). "Laylah Ali on Greenheads, Violence in Art, and More". Boston University. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  12. ^ "The Believer - Interview with Laylah Ali". The Believer. 2005-12-01. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  13. ^ "Paul Kasmin Gallery - Laylah Ali". Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  14. ^ Ali, Laylah; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park (2008-01-01). Laylah Ali: note drawings. [Lincoln, MA?]: Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park. ISBN 9780945506591.
  15. ^ Foundation, Joan Mitchell. "Joan Mitchell Foundation » Artist Programs » Artist Grants". Retrieved 2018-01-12.
  16. ^ "Joan Mitchell Foundation Names Artists for Its 2018 Residency Program". Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  17. ^ "United States Artists Taps Baltimore-based Deana Haggag as President and CEO | Culture Type". Retrieved 2018-02-13.

Further reading[edit]

  • Laylah Ali: The Greenheads Series, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA, 2012. ISBN 9780913697306

External links[edit]