Women are the real architects of society, and in honor of Women’s History Month, REVOLT is celebrating those trailblazers with the return of “She Is,” a limited series dedicated to highlighting Black and brown women breaking glass ceilings in different industries as they chat about their boss moves, overcoming obstacles in their fields and the keys to staying strong even when faced with challenges.
Past architects have included Julissa Prado, the founder of Rizos Curls; jewelry designer Jeniece Blanchet; Chef Flo; relationship manager and entertainment expert NJ Ndure, and many more, with one inspiring story after the next.
Season three is already underway and on episode two, which aired today (March 21), REVOLT sat down with Rugiyatou Ylva Jallow, a Swedish-Gambian artist based out of Los Angeles whose artwork has been featured in several galleries and museums around the world.
The burgeoning artist quickly realized earlier in her career that earning a spot in the world of fine art would not come without its obstacles. Daughter to a Swedish mom and a West African dad, Jallow ultimately moved from her native hometown in Stockholm to America, initially to continue her education in computer animation. However, as the painter took her artistry more seriously, she knew she needed more room to grow and eventually rented out a studio.
“It allowed me to really put time into my art,” she shared. “It’s kind of difficult to have the same space that you live in, and paint to progress, and really just push yourself because you get so distracted, and I feel like you’re not really getting as creative at what you do like when you have that different space, like that studio space.”
Rugiyatou Ylva Jallow’s work already consisted of beautiful imagery of Black women. Still, she wanted to tell her own story of being a mixed-raced Black woman and the struggles of trying to identify with both.
Jallow is often inspired by the things she’s observed and, admittingly, 18th century art and how a subject’s hand or gestures would be depicted in pictures. “I kind of pulled myself from those things with all of my pieces. All of the women have their faces covered with either hand or it’s hands pulling thread from their eyes,” she shared. “It’s supposed to represent the ancestors protecting these women. So, the hands are kind of depicted as a Black person or a caucasian person, and it’s representative of obviously my ancestors,” Jallow added.
Still, when it comes to being a woman, the designer boldly said she favors “being underrated.” She argued it’s “because we don’t have as big expectations put on us as men do, and I think that gives us the challenge of just pushing through those boundaries that people put on us —men or society.” Jallow said she “personally enjoys the journey of challenging people’s minds when it comes to me as a woman in the things that I do and the things that I’m capable of because, as I said, people don’t really have the same expectations that they do with men and I like that.”
The artist shared that although she believes, “Once you are pursuing your passion, you’re living your dream life already,” there were many moments where those fantasies posed problems. She candidly admitted, “I struggled,” and there were times she “was sleeping on my friend’s couch, but I was just so adamant.” Jallow’s resilience would not let her give up. “This is what I want to do, and I’m going to make it,” the international artist added. “I just have to keep pushing myself and just remain patient,” she continued before joking, “It might take 10 years or whatever, but I’m going to get there. There’s no other options. This is what I want to do.”
Jallow continued, “You kind of have to be delusional about it because there were so many things showing me that I probably wouldn’t make it… but for me, that just wasn’t an option. This is what I wanted to do, so I just kept pushing, and you know… finally made it.”
Jallow stressed the importance of staying patient, noting that after she spent her entire teenage years and 20s in self-doubt, there came a turning point following her 30th birthday. “You’re literally so much wiser, even though it sounds weird to even say… You really are wiser when you hit 30,” she insisted. “You just have a different sense of life and self-love.”
While the trailblazer doesn’t care to be remembered per se, Jallow does want her pieces to last. “I want them to be remembered for the story behind it but also because I am a woman, a female painter, and a Black woman on top of that, and I think that what’s most important right now is just to have more of that out into the world,” she said.
Jallow admitted that while there has been an increase in celebrating and highlighting female painters, more needs to happen. She went on to say, “It’s such a big contrast, and it’s very frustrating as a female artist to see that and have to deal with that.” Still, she’s grateful to be “part of a really important deal of history, just being one of those females that are pushing through barriers, and I think it’s an exciting thing to be a part of that.”
Be sure to watch REVOLT’s “She Is” episode featuring the one and only Rugiyatou Ylva Jallow here.
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