“I came across this piece by bell hooks called the ‘Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectator’ and I was really interested in how she was talking about Black women reclaiming their gaze,” she says. “That kind of idea stuck with me. I was just questioning, how do I visually showcase Black women reclaiming their gaze?”
She tackled this question with powerful faceless portraiture of Black women in various environments, with colorful backdrops and textured patterns. They’re meditative. “I’m inspired by Black culture, my cultural heritage, the food, music, traditions, and ways of doing things,” she says. “Being able to travel and even learn about different African cultures shows you how our ways of living overlap.”
Okubo credits the expansion of her career to mentors including Peggy Cooper Cafritz, co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where Okobo attended high school, as well as fellow artists Kimberly Trowbridge, Jordann Wine and Stan Squirewell. She hopes to take her work to a global audience. “It’s something I have to think about further because when my work is in a different setting, what do I want to say to people who may not be familiar with Black culture or Black heritage?” she says. “How do I deliver the message in a way that’s easy to understand? Not that it should be easy, but respectfully ‘understand.’”
Okubo lives in upper Northwest but is spending the beginning of the year exploring Kenya with close friends and drawing inspiration for her next exhibition, which is slated for November. Her ideal day in D.C. is spent working on one of her paintings, visiting her favorite museum with friends and closing the evening on the dance floor.
My ideal day is any day on the weekend. My studio is in Takoma Park, Md., so I’d start my day in that neighborhood. It’s very communal and everyone is super friendly. There’s a really great coffee shop that I love called Takoma Beverage Company. I go there pretty much every morning. I’ll get a vegan breakfast burrito and a caramel latte. Sometimes I’ll go there for lunch as well and for a snack. They have really great chocolate chip cookies that they bake in-house, so they’re fresh out of the oven, and they sell so quickly. Then I’d spend about six hours in my studio. I would work on whatever projects I have going on.
Next, I’d head to the Hirshhorn Museum. I really love that museum. I recently saw this exhibition by Toyin Ojih Odutola: “A Countervailing Theory.” It’s really incredible. It taps into all of your senses to tell an immersive story using soundscapes. I was completely blown away. The Marcel Duchamp exhibition, “The Barbara and Aaron Levine Collection,” is also really interesting.
After the museum, it would be time for happy hour, so I would head to Never Looked Better in Blagden Alley. It’s a really cool speakeasy. They play great ’90s and early 2000s music, and it’s really Instagrammable. They have this delicious apple martini. After happy hour drinks, it would be time for dinner, so we would head to Swahili Village on M Street NW. It’s always a good way to have dinner, drinks and enjoy a little bit of dancing. It’s Kenyan food, so whenever I’m not in Kenya, it’s where I can go to feel reconnected. I would order the whole tilapia “samaki wa nazi,” the collard greens and a side of chapati. They also have great drinks, so I would order the tropic fusion cocktail.
After dinner, depending on what event is going on we would head to Wild Days at the Eaton Hotel. I love how they partner with different DJs and performers to host events. If it’s a popping weekend, I would end the night dancing at Church on Sunday at Cafe Saint-Ex.