After all, the tweens and teens are often marked by the end of your “cuteness” and when you begin to be judged on the “White fright” scale of potential threat. The same fright that hands out suspensions to Black students at triple the rate of white ones in Ontario, is the same fear that allows police to handcuff a 6-year-old girl in a Mississauga elementary school.
As the now 14-year-old boss of her own online digital art studio (The Cre8tor House), Jaylah Hall resists society’s standards while defying its expectations. She is a multifaceted artist who engages the world through not only visual work, but also as a performance artist expressing her observations and feelings through spoken word poetry. All that, and she’s also written and illustrated her own children’s book that is slated to be published winter of this year. With her mom standing by, ByBlacks sat down over a phone interview with Jaylah Hall.
Are your parents artistic?
My mom is a poet. She’s a writer who's big on literature and loves language. I’m also a spoken word poet, and she has inspired me to also pursue that. My father loves music and dance. I also love music and I think I get that from my dad.
How long have you been making art, and what inspired you to launch The Cre8tor House?
I’ve been drawing since I was about 4 or 5. I considered it a hobby until about the age of 12, when I started taking it more seriously. I found it to be a form of escape. It was something I could really connect to in the sense that really helped me understand myself and what I like to do. It’s my first real passion.
When you say it was a form of escape, what were you trying to escape from?
Escape from the world’s standards. When you’re young it’s really hard to find yourself, especially in this day and age. Young people tend to struggle a lot to truly find themselves in a world that wants them to conform. Even though I wasn’t necessarily going through anything at the time, I used it as a tool to say “this is who I am, this is who I want to be,” and if I’m ever nervous or stressed, it reminds me I don’t need to conform to anyone’s standards. I feel like art is the physical representation of feeling, so when I do art, it’s a way for me to explore what’s going on in my head.
Some of your work, I’m thinking specifically of “Negritude” and “Royalty”, seems to have a political awareness I think is unusual for someone of your age. Where does that political awareness come from?
I consider myself to be a very observant individual, and I believe that most of my political awareness comes from things I’ve observed in the world. Whether that’s things I’ve observed, things I’ve felt, or things other people have felt. A lot of what inspires my work is combining the past, present, and the future. “Negritude” was a term used to empower Black people.* You can still relate to how that relates to the present-day Black Lives Matter movement etc. Black people are very creative and these terms and forms of art are things we’ve used to empower ourselves for centuries. My political awareness comes from my inspirations and what I choose to let into my mind-space. Whether it be issues I feel I can connect to, people I talk to, things that I see or feel, the music I listen to...basically we all have a story.
(Negritude: *A literary movement of the 1930’s to 50’s involving French-speaking Black writers aimed at raising Black consciousness across Africa and the diaspora.)
On conforming... what is it you’re trying to resist conforming too?
From the perspective of a young Black girl in today’s society, it’s still easy to feel like you need to be a certain type of person. There are a lot of different things I’ve observed when it comes to social interactions within the school system, or even just around my friends and peers. There’s a lot of Code-Switching for example. That’s when you’re around your White friends and you may feel like you have to be extra composed and sort of shrink yourself into a box or else you risk being seen as a stereotype, but also when you’re around your Black friends and you may feel you need to be more extroverted otherwise you’re seen as shy or boring. I’ve never really fit into either of those spectrums no matter how hard I’ve tried, and I’ve never really felt like I belonged to any of those boxes. So art is a way to release all that tension and it’s a reminder that I don’t need to be in any of those boxes. There’s no true kind of standard. You can be and do whatever you want, because who you are is valid.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
My mom is the person who has always pushed me to explore my passion and allowed me to be the kind of person I am. In terms of celebrities, I would consider Donald Glover to be a huge inspiration for me. My biggest inspirations have always been Black creatives who stand up for what they believe in. Donald Glover reminds me that you don’t have to just be one thing, and you can have many different interests and ways to display how you feel. I have that curiosity too because I love music, drama, and art. I just see the beauty in everything. When I see anything Donald Glover does, whether the production of his tv show, music or acting, you can feel and connect with it. At the same time, you can’t really articulate it. Art is a language we can all understand but is something very difficult to articulate because art is always up to interpretation. No matter how much you try to explain art you’ll always be wrong, because there will always be another side of the story. Donald Glover’s body of work reminds me that it’s okay to not always understand. It’s okay to feel and be different. It’s one thing to understand and it’s another thing to feel.
What are your future plans?
I’m considering applying to Sheridan college which is considered the Harvard of animation. It’s my dream school and I think I can learn a lot from going there.
Contact Jaylah Hall