Renowned Artist Ya La’ford Preps For Global Stage In Senegal

Ya La’Ford. Photo provided by the artist.

The hands and mind of abstract visual artist Ya La’Ford is immeasurable, limitless, and expansive. She is based in St. Petersburg, Florida, but the world is truly her library.

“I think I was a born artist and it’s my only way to personally express my encounters from a day-to-day interaction,” she tells ESSENCE. “I use a variety of mediums to explore these themes of identity, transformation, and connection, and my artwork really is an invitation for you to look beyond the surface and discover stories that are woven within.”

La’ford’s client list is expansive, including the likes of Nike, the NBA’s Orlando Magic, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Maya Angelou. She will soon travel to the Motherland, as one of seven US artists and the only American painter invited to demonstrate her work at one of Africa’s most prominent art events, the Dakar Biennale. The major gathering was set to start in May of this year, but was postponed to November due to changes in Senegal’s leadership.

Renowned Artist Ya La’ford Preps For Global Stage In Senegal
Ya La’Ford. Photo provided by the artist.

“I think that the change of date is a good thing because we’re able to really refine and have a very powerful and effective exhibition that will shape a new global narrative,” she says. “I’m very excited about this work because it’s an urgent call to address the interconnectedness and the challenges of our time.”

“I think that it’s an opportunity for us to really have a very focused point on this exchange of the exploration and the complex relationships between art and society, climate and history, and particularly within Dakar, Senegal.”

This year, La’Ford will showcase three large paintings and some of her digital work. The focus of this year’s show is, “The Wake,” which surrounds author and rofessor Christina Sharpe’s book, “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.” She will be in Senegal for the entire month-long Biennale event.

“In the face of ongoing struggles and past oppression, this exhibition is honoring our ancestors and those that are fighting today and celebrating for the richness of culture on both sides of the Atlantic and looking forward to the future,” La’ford details.

Immersing herself in different folklores is a prerequisite to her creative process. “This experience of traveling near and far is allowing me to engage in these diverse cultural experiences, colors, and energies to form this new mental canvas.”

Renowned Artist Ya La’ford Preps For Global Stage In Senegal
Ya La’Ford. Photo provided by the artist.

“From the time to process this information then goes into this very meaningful form. I think this idea of being mentally and physically and emotionally, very spiritually in every space, then allowed me to absorb the wisdom and the story of what that space had to offer and to share. And so whether I’m on the Great Wall of China or the Temple of Egypt, or the Colosseum in Rome, or the mountains in Colombia where you’d find our people, the Palenque who escaped slavery. As an artist of Jamaican descent, I draw inspiration from these rich cultural encounters.”

From the shores of West Africa to the shores of Florida, those inspiring encounters somehow fit into her suitcases. Her most recent project in the States continues to elevate the voices of Black trailblazers.

La’ford is creating a monumental sculpture to pay homage to the Courageous 12; the group of Black police officers that sued the city of St. Petersburg, Florida for discrimination In 1965–and won.

“Looking at the Courageous 12, you’re not just a descendant of slaves, but you’re a descendant of survivors. This work is really honoring and showing the journey of ancestors, but also realizing that there’s a bridge where we have the opportunity to work as a testimony of change,” she says. “I have two little boys that I want to know the shoulders that they stand on, that this didn’t come easy for us.” This project is expected to be finished by the summer of 2025.

Renowned Artist Ya La’ford Preps For Global Stage In Senegal
A computer generated image of the sculpture that honors the Courageous 12 in St. Petersburg, FL. Designed by Ya La’ford. (Photo credit: Ya La’ford)

As a Black woman, her voice and perspectives matter. Her experiences matter. Her various mediums serve as outlets for infinite avenues of expression.

“Weaving yourself into the tapestry of humanity becomes a very important paradigm so that you can understand your greatness and you can stand and emanate in it, to then pass that baton down the road when you have someone who looks just like you,” she says.

Ya La’ford is a dreamer. A visionary. An activist, mother, daughter, and castle builder of experiences both past and present. For the aspiring Black artists of tomorrow to present-day colleagues, she offers simple advice.

“Life is an adventure and a treasure, and it’s an ever-evolving frontier for us as human beings. There’s ingenuity, imagination, and continuity that lives within them.”

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