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Culture

Interview, Pop Culture

Cultural Enthusiast, Visual Artist: An Interview with Yo Yo Lander

January 25, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

(above image : “Uncomfortable” by Yo Yo Lander; all images: Yo Yo Lander)

I had the honor to interview Yo Yo Lander, visual artist and self proclaimed Cultural Enthusiast. It was a pleasure to speak with someone who is inspired from life to have created a platform of self-expression and artistic direction to create dialogue. Her medium of canvas and paint – which she employs to promote and highlight dissension with societal norms to help bridge the gap of culture – is an interesting play of art imitating life.

Dominique: How did you first discover art and how did you choose your medium?

Yo Yo: I was introduced to art from my Uncle Boykin who traveled to Africa and would send us postcards from Africa that pictured indigenous people. I would stare at the jewelry and that’s where I developed my appreciation of color. It was very different from the very bland color of Sumter, South Carolina of blacks, green and orange. I began traveling to Africa with my uncle in summers who led a group to Ghana and Ethiopia for the African Diaspora Heritage for 21 days. My uncle is a professor at Virginia Union University.

I’ve always been interested in indigenous people of Africa, Indian (Native American, and Mexican cultures). I was always excited for international food day to explore the cultures of others.

Another uncle (Uncle Curtis) was also an artist. His medium is wood. I would go visit his shed where he kept all of his work, but he never shared it with anyone. He has a great gift but he keeps it all to himself.

I was drawn to canvas for creative expression. I was not good at blending which allowed me to create my own lane and I began to highlight my “weakness” to turn it to strength, which is where I get my block coloring.

Dominique: What was your path toward becoming a visual artist?

Yo Yo: I found it difficult to verbally articulate and use art as a way of expression. I went to Howard for undergrad, but I’ve always been an eclectic person an explorer who wanted to see and experience life. I kind of just always did my own thing. I don’t want to be defined by social norms or job labels… which is how I coined my term cultural enthusiast. I’m a cultural enthusiast, a person who is able to monetize off artistic expression and who is invested into culture.

“Market Lady” by Yo Yo Lander

Dominique: Is there a therapeutic component to your artwork? Healing through art and how so? How does your artistic expression become a reflection of self?

Yo Yo: Yes. What you paint is a reflection of what I feel inside. It’s a relationship. One of my pieces was about relationships and as I was painting it helped me to reflect and understand on a deeper level the relationship I had with my sister. One of the first relationships we ever have in life. It helped me to create my work on sisterhood.

It usually takes me about 1 year to complete a group of work. I never touch my art when I’m not in the mood and I tend to find my answers in the silence. Whatever I’m seeking I always find it out. One of the most therapeutic components to painting is you get obsessed with painting. You get lost and you just want to be alone with your thoughts and lock yourself away. There are three steps to painting (1) the idea, (2) draw, (3) paint.

Dominique: How do you use your platform to inspire, create conversation and work for social justice?

Yo Yo: There’s a message in everything. Figuring out how to tie art to a story to create dialogue; a conversation piece; sometimes I don’t choose my subjects my subject chooses me.

My first commissioned piece was a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with commissioned pieces it usually takes a month, but my spirit must align with the work.

My current catalog is heavily influenced by Ghana (last summer 2016). I’m working on a group work for the African American Museum of Art. This will be featured from October to December 2017. It is a collection of 20 pieces and I’m waiting on the spirit to guide my direction. I’m thinking of “the problem with going nowhere.” The problem with going nowhere – like Good Times; the circle of the cycle, it started to sit with me. Be patient. Every breaststroke has a meaning. To rush is a waste of time and material. [Art] is time, patience and love.

“Black American Girl” by Yo Yo Lander

Dominique: What is your advice to youth and aspiring artist?

Yo Yo: Don’t be obsessed with grades in school. Be obsessed with relationships and experiences and encourage kids to play. People forget who we are, we lose the essence of self we lose our light. In Caribbean culture youth play, let’s change the culture of how we teach our children to encourage them to explore everything and see what you like.

I never thought I would make a career from painting, but we also need to make sure we get the parents involved.

Artist Statement:

YoYo Lander is an autodidactic painter living and working in Los Angeles, CA. For YoYo creating art is therapeutic. Yoyo’s visions emanate from all that surrounds her while abroad. YoYo’s work explores unconventional color palettes, bold color contrasts, and womanhood. Her subjects are comprised of an arrangement of brown color harmonies, placed on backgrounds of both subtle and loud color blocks. Yoyo creates her interpretations using personal photographs and stories from indigenous women as her inspiration. The figurative artwork enjoins a conversation between itself and it’s audience regarding joy, identity, sisterhood and community.

Fashion, Interview

Interview with Christianah Ajanaku, founder of African Fashion Week-Chicago

November 6, 2015

By Dominique Michelle Davis ( photo credits: Law Agyei; [photo below only]: Dominique Michelle Davis)

Earlier this week we posted here my review of the 2015 African fashion Week-Chicago show that had the splendid theme “The Art of Fabric.” The following is an interview between I conducted with Christianah Ajanaku, the founder of African Fashion Week-Chicago. Our meeting took place at the Virgin Hotel located in downtown Chicago. Although we experienced minor distractions from childhood temper tantrums, we had a delightful discussion complimented with delicious food from Miss Ricky’s restaurant.

Dominique: This was my second year attending African Fashion Week – Chicago (AFW). Wow! Huge transition. How did you decide to produce and launch AFW?

Christianah: I’ve always had a love for fashion. It played a huge part in my roots growing up. I’ve always been in love with colors and fabric. There are African Fashion Weeks all over the country and the world and I thought it was time for Chicago to have something like that. We have so much talent in this city. I was waiting for somebody else to do it… I thought I would just be a volunteer to show up and help out, but I noticed there was a void and when no one did it… I just did it!

Dominique: So how did you get your team together?

Christianah: The first year I pretty much did everything on my own. I pretty much knew everyone that I worked with, but this second year I targeted people to choose from their strengths and finding people with the same passion that I have.

Dominique: How did you choose this year’s theme, “The Art of Fabric”?

Christianah: “The Art of Fabric” was the theme for Friday night’s event and kind of set the tone for the weekend to showcase fabric, where does fabric come from and how it is used.

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Dominique: I saw a variety of fabric in the garments for the collections. I think that was pulled off very well. What do you think makes AFW-Chicago unique?

Christianah: I think we incorporate music and art, which is different from other runway show. We had Nola Ade, amazing performer.

Dominique: Who was your favorite designer/collection for this year’s show?

Christianah: I don’t know if I can answer that. I truly loved them all.

Dominique: As I’m sitting here and listening to you speak. Something just struck me. You are a trailblazer. You’ve created something that does not, or has not existed in the city of Chicago. Have you stopped to take that in?

Christianah: No, not really, I just do it… because it needed to be done. I know that our shows are different, and that’s what I strive for, to create an experience.

Dominique: Now that African fabric has been embraced by mainstream, what are your thoughts about that?

Christianah: I think it’s exciting. That’s another reason why we chose the “The Art of Fabric” as the theme for this year’s event. Even though it’s mainstream, I want to educate people on where the fabric comes from and it’s more than just fun and [aesthetically pleasing], a lot of history goes into making these fabrics. So, I think that’s important for the audience to know and learn… I mean, everything is being called African fabric now, and its just not. People like Stella Jean have made African Fabric really popular. Beyonce and Rihanna wear a lot of her work.

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Dominique: Educate me. What is the difference between true African Fabric and something that just looks like African Fabric? How can a person not well versed tell the difference?

Christianah: Let me say, for example, there’s a fabric called Adire. I’m Nigerian, and this is a fabric from my culture. There’s so much history in this fabric and something that not a lot of people use now. There’s a new material called Ankara, it’s African and used a lot in Africa but actually originates from Switzerland. …We didn’t do a lot of marketing around the education piece. We missed an opportunity to provide that educational aspect as well.

Dominique: What has been your biggest challenge, and where do you see AFW going?

Christianah: The first year was gaining awareness. We didn’t know what to expect, which was our biggest concern. Once we knew that we could attract the crowd it was a challenge to continue to build and grow to make it bigger and better each year. It’s a lot of pressure, because I always want to do better than the previous year. I eventually would like to see this become a weeklong event. Next year will probably stay three days.

Dominique: One thing that I’ve noticed in Chicago is duplication of services and products. How do you stay focused on collaboration to minimize duplicating services and build your network?

Christianah: I’m really big on collaborating. I want to meet people. I feel like the purpose of AFW is beyond me, it’s to benefit other people. It’s not to bring shine to myself it’s to bring shine to the designers. I don’t believe in creating unnecessary competition. I don’t believe in competition, I don’t bring it into the things that I do. I believe in staying in my own lane.

Dominique: What advice would you give to designers, entrepreneurs, people trying to get into the field?

Christianah: There’s a lot of chaos that goes into [things], but I love the chaos, that’s why I do it. If you’re interested in doing something, especially if you’re creative…just do it! Do the research, do as much as the legwork you need to do and just do it.

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Dominique: My last question. How else are you involved in the community, or other civic work that you may be doing aside from AFW?

Christianah: Eventually, I’d like us to grow into an organization that gives back. We’re still trying to figure out the logistics of how we see AFW creating a space to give back. Right now, we’ve created an opportunity and space for people to show their work and network, but I’d like for us to continue to work on developing a platform to give back.

If you’re interested in following Christianah and AFW, please follow them on Twitter  @afwchicago or visit the website afwchicago.com.