Jae Jarrell: Urban Wall Suit

"Speeches, marches, rallies, and demonstrations filled the airwaves, newscasts, and Black artists' consciousness nationwide. It was a call to all the aesthetically endowed to show up! Bring it: outspoken word, music with infectious cadence, images that look like me and mine, fond titles of 'Sister' and 'Brother,' and the Black community was utopia.

A group of Chicago artists collaborated to paint the Wall of Respect. Out of that project, painters Jeff Donaldson and Wadsworth Jarrell, along with printmaker Barbara Jones-Hogu, partnered with painter Gerald Williams and myself, fashion designer Jae Jarrell, to found COBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists). COBRA developed principles: Figures that were Profound, Proud. Black positive statements. Posters. Cool Ade Colors.

We chose an identical assignment for our first project, Black Family. The rectangular format of my Ebony Family dress is a dashiki imitating a poster. Velveteen is patchworked to form figures that are further defined with appliquéd velvet ribbon. The piece always got good vibes from our members, no doubt, because my political stance on nurturing the strong loving Black family is real, and personally experienced. We regarded the members as extended family.

We met for critiques every couple of weeks, and engaged in ongoing political discussions and news sharing of activists nationally. By 1970 membership grew to ten and COBRA changed its name to AFRICOBRA, signifying African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. I designed several garments during that transition, but one of which I am quite proud is Urban Wall Suit: a Cool Ade multicolored two-piece suit representing a brick wall with appliquéd velvet mortar lines with graffiti, posters, notices, and tagging in acrylic paint. When I wore it on a visit to the Gilchrist department store in Boston, where I had worked from 1957 to 1959, Miss Mackey, my former supervisor, and Ev', her secretary, were thrilled with my revolutionary Silk Wall of graffitied messages from the 'hood, and deemed it 'Really Powerful.' When our visit was over, I could hear in their voices, and see in their eyes, respect—Real respect…and pride.

AFRICOBRA has always been a beacon in my personal and professional life."

—Jae Jarrell, June 2013