Jae Jarrell is a founding member of AFRICOBRA, the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, a Chicago artist's collective founded in 1968 who were looking to develop a visual language for contemporary Black experience. Jae had been a professional fashion designer for nearly a decade leading up to the founding of AFRICOBRA, and her contribution to the group's exhibitions were a series of highly political "garment sculptures." Though they were wearable, she would also have them displayed alongside the group's paintings and prints in galleries and museums, appreciable for their sculptural qualities on their own.
This piece is an extension of a previous garment called the "Urban Wall Suit." The vest came slightly later, but was a format that was very important to her. Throughout her career she recurrently returned to vests because they can be worn in all seasons, and by both men and women. The "Urban Wall" motif on the piece is absolutely in line with AFRICOBRA's aesthetics and conceptual interests. She was inspired by the colors and textures of the urban landscape: the patterns of brick work, the colors of graffiti. These were realities of the South Side of Chicago (and of most urban areas, really) that she wanted to bring to fashion and represent with pride, rather than derision. Pride and the reality of Black American life was a crucial topic for AFRICOBRA, a political statement towards self-determination: "Black America" would be defined, created, and occupied by Black Americans. These powerful statements by AFRICOBRA were unbelievably prescient statements in the Civil Rights era, and would maintain conceptual continuity in the artists' practices even after the group began to disperse and pursue their own solo projects.
Technically speaking, the piece is comprised of dyed and painted suede. Decades ahead of her time in envisioning deconstructed fashion, Jae has always been interested in inverting her seams so that fabric joinery is highly visible and the construction of the garment is accessible to the viewer. The use of suede is also signature to her practice, she appreciates its natural qualities, and feels that there's a primal connection that dates back to the earliest garments of human history. The use of dyed or painted suede is also signature to her practice; dyed suede especially is a technique that she developed early on and brings incredible color depth different from industrially processed suede, making the surface more like a work of art. It's also work observing that the black lines creating the brick pattern aren't painted on, but instead are their own dedicated layer sewn onto the surface. The formal sensitivities within the vest are in many regards superior to the earlier jacket garment; the purity of using only suede, and her execution on the construction, really show a maturity that she developed over time.