Crafty by nature: Keba continues childhood loves
“My mum has these big black suitcases of all the drawings that I did when I was little, she kept all of them. I was really obsessed with mermaids when I was little,” Jamila Keba recalls fondly, laughing at herself. “My favorite one is this one mermaid [who] is really, really fat—her arms are sticking straight out. And I stuck these jewels around her, in the air. She was my favorite mermaid. I loved her so much.”
Art has always been an important part of Jamila’s life. Some of her earliest memories involve making things. She hung hangers together in a symmetrical mobile when she was two and in the second grade, along with her best friend Max, would draw on the walls in his house.
She also started making beaded jewelry then. Her neighbor at the time was a jeweler, who would allow Jamila to watch as she worked. Jamila still has the pair of pliers her neighbor gave her.
From the arts and crafts she did as a child, Jamila has studied art formally in high school and at college.
She had studied sculpture and painting formally in high school and at a summer program at the Academy of Art in San Francisco before coming to Colby.
At Colby, she has studied painting, printmaking and sculpting. She said that in high school art class, she was allowed to make things without learning the technical skills involved. She received much of that education at Colby.
Jamila makes jewelry on the side, adapting her skills from sculpture, welding together metal hoop earrings and rings. She finally started selling jewelry on the independent crafts website Etsy.
Metal work and sculpture have become Jamila’s favorite medium of work. “Welding is probably my favorite thing. It’s very physical—I use [steel] rods and you have to use these [other implements] to bend them, because you can’t with your hands. And you chop things and stick them together. And there is fire,” she said, as she bounces in her seat with excitement.
Her sculptures and her jewelry make use of clean lines. “I really like lines. I started doing wire sculptures in high school and the steel welding is an extension of that. It’s not bending it with my hands, [but] it’s lines in the air."
She compares her sculptures to contour drawing except in three-dimensional space. Her sculptures are minimalistic outlines of images or objects, without filling in the image traced. They both take up space while remaining devoid of space.
Jamila experiences art on an emotional level and is wary to verbalize or intellectualize art. “I really like art [when] I can tell it’s someone’s emotion: they weren’t just making it because they were commissioned to or to show something, but that it came out of them,” she explained. “I feel like when I make art—it’s making something that I can’t express through words. It’s another way of speaking to me.”
She also wouldn’t call herself an artist because “[an artist is] more like a profession. And for me, art’s not a profession at all; it’s something I have to do.”
Perhaps reflective of her long term relationship with art, Jamila crafted her own independent major called “Creative Development” which combines classes in studio art, psychology and education. Growing up, Jamila went to schools that emphasized art and creativity as important aspects of children’s education.
Jamila is also passionate about food and travelling. Growing up, she moved around the globe a lot with her mother.
She was born in New Zealand and grew up in San Francisco and Hawaii. From Hawaii, she still has a swing her mother’s boyfriend made for her, which has her name carved in it. The swing still hangs off a tree at her house in San Francisco.
Although she hated moving as a child, she thinks it allowed her to experience things people will probably never experience and it has allowed her to cope with change, especially now that college is ending. “I know it will be OK and I know I will get a job, and maybe it won’t be a great job, but I’m not afraid to go somewhere and start a life there.”