Karla Ferguson of Yeelen Gallery, Miami
Birthplace: Kingston, Jamaica.
Where did you go to school? I went to Florida International University for undergrad and Tulane Law School for my J.D.
How did your career get started? My career in art began after law school when I relocated to Paris and immersed myself in culture. I have always been passionate about art and social justice, and my legal background enabled me to combine the two fields by curating exhibitions I feel are crucial to the evolution of our society. I moved back to Miami in 2006, opened up my first space in Wynwood, which matured into the Yeelen Gallery we know today, and thanks to the brilliant artists I have had the pleasure to work with, we have become a voice that captures the pulse of the people.
What is the biggest challenge of running your own gallery? Keeping the lights on. We depend on sales as most galleries do, therefore, we need collectors willing to support the work we defend. It would also be nice to have the support of various foundations. However, Yeelen is about maintaining an independent voice. Censorship and conformation are not my thing.
What are you most proud of so far in terms of your career? My contribution to society. I have been able to create a space that takes on tough civil rights issues such as racism, women’s rights, LGBT issues, or socioeconomic issues. Creating dialogue, raising awareness, and offering solutions fills me with an immense amount of pride. I aim to do no harm while I am on this earth, and if I am able to improve it, all the better.
If you could have an exhibition of any artist’s work in all of history, who would it be? This is a really tough question. I admire many artists for their unique perspectives, narrowing it down to one is simply impossible. I would probably just have a huge group show with the likes of Jackson Pollock, Gordon Parks, Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence, Gaugin, Dorothea Lange, Egon Schiele, Elizabeth Catlett, Yayoi Kusama, and Julie Mehretu meanwhile throwing in artists I represent such as Tim Okamura, Jerome Soimaud, and James Clover. It’s a good thing that this is fantasy because that show would be insanely mind-blowing!
What is the biggest problem with the art world today? The biggest issue in the art world is playing to the highest bidder. Silencing your voice just to make a dollar does no one any favors—quite the opposite actually. Only truth can set us free. Only truth can help us to evolve and become a better society.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps? One step at a time, don’t give up. Adapt, perhaps, but don’t stop and please enjoy the ride, after all, this is the adventure.