Rugiyatou Jallow: And Her Eyes Were Held by the Sun

October 19 - November 22, 2023 New York
Installation Views
Rugiyatou Jallow: And Her Eyes Were Held by the Sun. albertz benda, New York. October 19 - November 22, 2023. Photo by Thomas Müller. 
Press release

NEW YORK, NY: albertz benda is thrilled to present a solo exhibition of new works by Rugiyatou Jallow, an artist who lives and works in Los Angeles.


Jallow hails from Sweden and is of mixed heritage: her mother is Swedish and her father, who was her primary caregiver, is from the Gambia. She comes from a matrilineal line of creatives: her mother and grandmother both painted, which instilled in her a love for the medium since she was a child. This female lineage comes across in her work, which focuses most often on strong female characters.


Her new paintings continue to explore the representation of women like herself, who identify with different races and who struggle to fit into either milieu. Her canvases tell stories about these women, who are underrepresented in the history of art as well as contemporary practice. In this new series, female subjects are seen at rest or doing leisure activities: a woman reads a book while sunbathing; another woman heads towards the sea holding a surfboard; one woman sits at a café in a bikini; and yet another lies in a hammock holding a luscious green pillow. Jallow says, “You rarely see mixed girls (or black girls) in scenes of just hanging out in the summer surfing, laying in a hammock, having a picnic etc. I wanted to put these women in these different scenes: mixed girls being comfortable in their skin and just enjoying the summer and living life.”


The paintings are notable for their innovative technique: Jallow likes to begin with an acrylic base as she prefers the brushstrokes that are created. She then sketches the composition onto the canvas and paints the flesh colors and additional background areas in oil. The hairstyles are done freehand, and she always tries different styles that represent the many variations of mixed-race women. In one new canvas, the woman’s curls tumble around her face, a reinvention of Sandro Botticelli, the iconic Renaissance painter who is a favorite of Jallow’s. In the final layer the artist incorporates thread into her canvases, which acts as another form of pigment and represent familial bloodlines. While the artist has used red fiber to represent the ancestries, in the new work she uses thread that ranges in color and corresponds to light and shadow on the skin tones of her female characters.


The new work also features a departure in technique. The artist has an abiding interest in depicting hands, which for her are signifiers of the ancestors of her female subjects. She has used hands to cover the eyes of her protagonists in earlier bodies of work. Here she has removed the hands from the eyes so that viewers can see the gaze of her subjects. In And Her Eyes Were Held By The Sun, a hand floats in space, connecting a thread to her reclining woman, perhaps a metaphor for the artist as creator and muse.