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.
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.
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.
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.