Jae Jarrell (Africobra) USA, b. 1935


Jae Jarrell is an American sculptor, painter and fashion designer. She is one of the original five founders of AFRICOBRA, a globally influential Black arts collective founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1967.


Jarrell’s most illustrious creations are wearable artworks, which reflect the social and aesthetic philosophies of AFRICOBRA. The history of these works began in Cleveland, Ohio, where Jarrell was born and raised. Her grandfather was a tailor, and her uncle was a haberdasher. She and her mother frequented vintage clothing stores, admiring how the outfits were made. Teaching herself to sew, she made her own clothing by combining outfits she collected from second hand stores, reveling in the fact that her fashion was unique and had a secret, vintage past.


In the mid-1950s, Jarrell moved to Chicago and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While in school, she confided to a friend about her desire to open a clothing boutique. The friend suggested she use the reverse acronym of her given name—Elaine Annette Johnson—as the name of the shop. She took that advice and soon opened up Jae’s of Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago. At that boutique, she met a young artist named Wadsworth Jarrell, who had come in to shop.


Jae and Wadsworth started seeing each other and the two became involved in the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), a collective of artists who went on to create the famous Wall of Respect, one of the key works in the burgeoning urban mural movement of the 1960s. Jae and Wadsworth also opened a small gallery below their home and studio, where they hosted live jazz music and art exhibitions. It was in that gallery that many of the early meetings of AFRICOBRA took place.


AFRICOBRA’s goal was to understand and express the visual principles that defined black culture. As an artist adept at fashion design, Jae created groundbreaking wearable artworks that interpreted the core ideas of the group.


Looking back at this time, Jae said, “We made an effort to raise a consciousness. In our hearts, when we put this all together we thought it was going to be an explosion of positive imagery ... I saw a result of our raising the consciousness, particularly about our history.”


In addition to her wearable artworks, Jarrell also works in the mediums of sculpture and furniture design. She often combines these mediums to create sculptural works the incorporate found architectural elements, furniture parts, and painted imagery related to her personal history and to Black culture in general.


Major exhibitions of Jarrell's work include AFRICOBRA: Nation Time, 2019 Venice Biennale, Official Collateral Event, Venice, IT; AFRICOBRA: Messages to the People, MOCA North Miami, FL, USA; AFRICOBRA 50, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, USA; Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London, England; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Fayetteville, AR; USA, Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; The Broad Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco MOMA, CA, USA, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, USA; We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, ICA Boston, MA, USA; and Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell, The Cleveland Museum of Art, OH, USA. Jarrell’s works are in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum and many other institutions. She lives and works in Cleveland, OH.