The University of Iowa Museum of Art is currently showing 23 drawings by of one the country’s most celebrated and enigmatic contemporary artists, Laylah Ali, in the exhibition Laylah Ali: Drawings from the Typology Series.
Ali, perhaps best known for her startling green-faced figures in gouache on paper, has emerged as one of the most important artistic voices in recent years for the insights her work offers into the power struggles of race and the shifting perceptions of identity. Drawings in the current exhibition recall the 19th-century racist pseudo-science of “typology,” with which scientists attributed physiological characteristics and personality traits to the global races.
“Ali’s latest work speaks to a fundamental question that resonates profoundly in this era of globalization. Her work highlights the ethnic and cultural divides that permeate our contemporary world”, says Alex Baker, curator of contemporary art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Ali has created intimate drawings in ink on paper, inviting viewers to draw meaning from the figures she creates. They are beings that share some similarities with humans but whose clothing, facial expressions, postures and movements are confounding and disorienting. By playing with the figures’ hairstyle, body type, dress and physical limitations, she opens up a litany of questions into how all humans create and interpret identity.