Beginning with her birthday July 4, 1900, artist Nellie Mae Rowe’s life spanned the 20th century. For most of her life, Nellie made art in obscurity, propelled by a force she viewed as a God-given gift. As the daughter of a sharecropper and former slave, she made art from whatever she could find. As an adult, she transformed her home into her “Playhouse,” an imaginative oasis filled with vibrant drawings, handmade sculptures and dolls, and collected objects. Six years before her death, a wealthy gallerist, Judith Alexander, “discovered” and introduced her work to the art world.

Over four acts and an interlude, This World is Not My Own traces the lifespan of an artist who struggles to dedicate her life to art while exploring the personal and political events that shaped her singular body of work. The film mixes traditional documentary techniques with animations and scripted scenes shot in intricately detailed sets to bring her dynamic story to life. 

Opendox created film sets that reimagine Nellie’s “Playhouse,” and partnered with Kaktus Film to design and animate 3D characters in Nellie’s and her gallerist’s likenesses. Actresses, Uzo Aduba and Amy Warren, perform scripted scenes based on Nellie Mae Rowe quotes. Their recorded voices and movements make the animated Nellie and Judith come to life. 

This World is Not My Own tells the story of a woman who was born an artist, but had to overcome many obstacles to dedicate herself to her art. Ultimately, Nellie builds the world she wants to live in. She invites Judith to join her, and for us to consider what they left behind.

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