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Art + Love: Ayanah Moor + Jamila Raegan

As part of our Art + Love series, interdisciplinary artists Ayanah Moor and Jamila Raegan reflect on the ways that their distinct practices influence one another and the ways in which their relationship influences the work they make.

On where it all started:

Jamila Raegan: Ayanah and I met a little haphazardly during a visit she made to Brooklyn in April 2014 with a mutual friend of ours. Funny enough, they were crashing with me at my home. I remember so vividly the moment Ayanah and I met. I was working and Ayanah and our dear friend Alisha were picking up keys. Ayanah would say–which is true–that we met in front of the Biggie Smalls mural at the corner of Fulton and South Portland Avenues. It was a rare experience. I remember every little detail–the sun on her face, her eyes were stars, her smile (her gorgeous smile), and her tattoos. A first sight kind of love, truly.

Ayanah Moor: I used to live in Pittsburgh and during that time I became really close friends with an amazing artist named Alisha. I remember one day Alisha mentioning that she had a godsister named Jamila. Sometimes Alisha would tell funny stories about her and Jamila, back when they were kids. Funny games they used to play, stuff they made up, like their own ‘sister club’. Their moms were friends in college, so they have this adorable connection. The more I heard these stories about Jamila, she just seemed so cool. Really fun! So, one year Alisha and I drove to New York together to see the Whitney Biennial. Alisha said we should visit her godsister while we were in town. I remember exactly when I first saw J, she was literally in front of the Biggie mural in Brooklyn. I was in the passenger seat looking out the window at her. She walked up to my side of the car and smiled.

On one another’s process and practice:

Jamila: Most immediately I would say that Ayanah’s work is diverse, clever, and thoughtful. She manages to balance a complex life experience and playfulness with supreme finesse. Ideas cunningly anchor her work no matter the chosen medium. I think her creative process and her actual life process often coincide. She is always working diligently to discover new avenues of making. I admire Ayanah’s commitment to honoring Black queer women–specifically and perhaps more encompassing, the Black diasporic experience–within her work. I consider this effort an act of liberation and I couldn’t be prouder.

Ayanah: Jamila’s practice takes a few different forms. She loves color and is a very expressive painter. In the studio her paintings are like spaces where colors blend and saturate, pool and drip. At home she works on smaller pieces on paper. These are playful and improvisational, figurative abstractions.

Jamila is also attuned to the spirit world. She makes altars that memorialize loved ones or ancestors and creates spaces for contemplation. Her research on plants like tobacco and cotton are beginning to take shape in her cyanotypes and installations. I enjoy how free she is in the studio. Jamila allows her ideas, her research, her instincts to collide, intersect and feed one another. She’s also a great singer.

Detail of Seventy-three, a painting by Ayanah Moor, 2018.

Detail of Seventy-three, a painting by Ayanah Moor, 2018.

On sharing space:

Jamila: We share a living space while we both maintain separate studios. My wife is an avid collector in our home space and she has definitely passed that bug along [to me], thankfully. Our collection has allowed me to further my ability to see, to look at paintings, drawings, and objects over and over again. In this way I am always in a space of discovery. As for her own work, there’s not a lot of it in our house. She’s much more interested in seeing and experiencing multiple prospectives. While we have separate studios, they are conveniently located in the same building. I enjoy and prefer separate working spaces. I think it’s the healthiest choice for us. The bonus is that we get to visit one another. How does being in close proximity to her work influence me? The pursuit of making, making continuously, showing up, and holding one another accountable has deeply inspired my practice.

Ayanah: Jamila and I have separate studio spaces. She’s my wife, so we already spend a lot of time together. Our studios allow for independent time to think and work and just be. We’re on different floors in the same building, so we occasionally visit one another. It’s pretty cute. I wish we were on the same floor but I appreciate our separate work spaces. She’s my biggest cheerleader. When I’m down on myself, or doubting my work, she has an incredible way of building me up

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Detail of a painting by Jamila Raegan.

On collaborating with one another:

Jamila: We have engaged in a handful of performance works together. Co-creating was newer territory for me and presented unique challenges that were well worth it. I am proud of the work we made together.

Ayanah: We have collaborated before–it was earlier in our relationship and I think we were still figuring out our rhythm as a couple. The piece was a performance called Offerings and was dedicated to victims of police violence. The work was challenging but we learned a lot. Jamila created an arrangement in the sand with flowers and candles. We sang a song in front of the ocean and I played the ukulele. It was really early in the morning so no one else was around. Just us and the tide going back and forth. We’d been so overwhelmed with images of black death circulating online. It was difficult performing the piece but was also a form of healing. We performed before the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as our audiences.

On how each their process and practice have influenced the other:

Jamila: Conceptually, I am forever changed. Additionally, she takes lots of risks in her making and I admire that greatly. I was so often and sometimes still told that I needed to focus on a singular medium. It was so discouraging because I have a lot of interests and I crave adventure. Ayanah works however she wants–she doesn’t limit herself to any particular medium or a paradigm that others might readily digest. This attitude was very affirming for me.

Ayanah: Love. Jamila’s love has impacted how I see my work and myself…

…and one more thing:

Jamila: My wife has been a professor of art for nearly 20 years! I love the way she enjoys being in an environment of constant learning, supporting the growth of artists. While related to her creative practice, it’s still a job that requires the majority of her time and energy and yet she manages both with grace and gratitude.

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This interview is part of a series. You can read more Art + Love interviews here.

Featured Image: From Ayanah Moor and Jamila Raegan’s collaboration, Offerings. Photo courtesy of the artists.