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Yeelen Gallery Continues to Offer Thought-provoking Art by Sheryl Estrada

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The constructs of law and the concept of art formed a connection for attorney Karla Ferguson resulting in the Yeelen Gallery. I asked Ferguson, owner and director of the gallery, after almost a year in its location, what she wanted people to know.

“I’d like people to know that we’re here, and that we’re doing work that has a social message,” she shared with me during my visit to her artistic realm located at 294 N.W. 54th St., Miami in the area known as Little Haiti. “Art is here to reflect our society and hopefully improve our society.”

The 34-year-old, who is proud of her diverse heritage, including a Chinese grandmother, was born in Jamaica.

“We didn’t exactly have the same racial stigmas I found in the U.S. when I moved here at the age of seven,” she said.

When first coming to the U.S., she and her family lived in New York City eventually settling in Miramar, Fla. Ferguson is a graduate of Florida International University and Tulane University Law School.

She interned with the Innocence Project New Orleans, a nonprofit law office, which identifies and remedies wrongful conviction cases. Attorneys represent innocent prisoners serving life sentences and assist them with their transition into society upon their release.

She explained that in Louisiana it’s a lengthy process getting to the point where a DNA test can even be administered to prove innocence. Ferguson realized generational negative perceptions and stereotypes that exist for people of color, particularly for black males in the cases she worked on, played a role in eyewitness misidentification resulting in wrongful convictions.

As art is one of her personal interests, she thought of how the perception of a person, or group of people, can be affected, in a positive way, through an artistic image.

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“I thought that creating a gallery where you would be able to see these positive images would counteract the dehumanizing effects we’ve had over the past couple of centuries,” she said. “It’s a long process, but the legal system is also a long process. I thought with images, you could make an impact a little faster.”

In Bambara, a language spoken in Mali, the word “yeelen,” means “brightness.” Ferguson chose the name for her gallery after seeing Souleymane Cissé’s 1987 film of the same name.

Yeelen-Wynwood began in 2008 as a private studio and exhibition space. Its mission was to foster relationships with its surrounding neighborhood by launching a program of exhibitions that expressed the varied identities of the people within its cosmopolitan city. In December 2013, Yeelen Gallery occupied a 10,000 square-foot converted industrial space/complex in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. The gallery has four exhibition spaces and a residency, which focuses on figuration, realism and symbolism by utilizing various media.

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Ferguson looks for artists who deliver a message.

“I’m not so interested in the background of the artist, as far as what color the artist is,” she said. “I don’t believe works that depict images of black people or Hispanic people or Asian people need to come from those people. I think that’s another way of categorizing and marginalizing the work. I feel that anyone can tell the story if they’re truly involved in the culture. And above all I look for quality and technique because the image is only as effective as how strong the work is.”

The Yeelen’s international artists showcased “whom retain independence and give voice to the unheard,” include Joseph Adolphe, James B. Clover, Patrick Earl Hammie, Tim Okamura, Jerome Soimaud, Michael Sole and Aurel Vici.

Ferguson is married to Soimaud. They are parents of girls Lana, 4, Nadja, 9; and Aloha, 21, Taos, 23 oldest daughters who Ferguson says may not be her biological daughters “… but are very much mine.” She commented, “We’ve been a team for the past 11 years.”

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Soimaud has been artistically documenting Little Haiti for the past six years, which, in 2013, led to the choice of location for the Yeelen. Even though her family resides in a different neighborhood in Miami, Ferguson said they feel welcome there.

“We found it is such a welcoming community that we wanted to be here and to give back,” she said. “Little Haiti had a spirit, a spirit that spoke to me … it just told a story of history.”

Ferguson shared there were people who cautioned her against having a gallery in her current location as it seems the area has a negative reputation. The warnings ironically support her beliefs on changing perceptions. She said she shows members of the community respect and they give her respect in return.

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Yeelen Gallery presents Love, Strength, & Soul, a series of works by Brooklyn-based portrait artist, Tim Okamura on view Nov. 22, 2014 – Jan. 10, 2015. The gallery is hosting ArtTalk: A Conversation with Tim Okamura at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22.
In this discussion, Okamura will introduce his work, offering context for his choice of subjects and the personal path that led to his work with this medium.
The artist creates inspiring, large-scale realistic portraits of African-American women. His work has been featured in P.S. 1, the BP Portrait Awards Exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery, Koki Arts in Tokyo, Japan and multifarious spaces worldwide. Okamura’s paintings can be found in the private collections of celebrities Uma Thurman, Bryan Greenberg and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

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Art workshops with the Batey 106 Project, will be part of the Paradise Lost exhibition at Yeelen, 3:30-5:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and 4. A reception will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 4.
To include the Little Haiti community in what is known as Miami Art Week (art events occurring simultaneously with Art Basel Miami, which this year is Dec. 4-7), Yeelen Gallery will partner with Foundation for Art In Motion, the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Beauty For Freedom, The Millennial Group, A Dying Breed and Motion Art Fair, to present street and graffiti art workshops for children during its two-day Paradise Lost exhibition.

Collaborative events with the Batey 106 Project, the workshops are part of the Foundation for Art In Motion. Batey 106 is an arts education platform introducing basic artistic skills to youth. Batey 106 is also scheduled to work with underserved Haitian youth in the Dominican Republic.

Paradise Lost will feature seven emerging artists at Yeelen Gallery from Dec. 2-4. Proceeds for the art sold at the event will be donated to the Little Haiti Cultural Center and the Batey 106 Project.

For more information on the Yeelen Gallery, visit; email:; phone: (954) 235 4758.

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7 Items to Donate to Batey 106 This Week

Donate Paint to Batey 106

Donate Paint to Batey 106

Acrylic Paint – Remember finger painting in kindergarten? Remember the joy of seeing colors transform right in front of your eyes. Thats the joy of experiencing acrylic paint for the first time. We share that with the youth in our workshops each time they come to class. Of course, quantities of paint when it comes to kids can become scarce in a few sessions. In order to keep the fun going we’re going to have lots of the stuff on hand.  We go through a lot of Red, Yellow, and blue when it comes to lessons about color theory and mixing.


Crayons, Markers, Pencils – Our youth find it easiest in the earlier workshops to express themselves with thoughtfully drawn reflections based on prompts from our instructors.


Solar Powered Lights – You may see these on lawns in the suburbs. They can be quite luminous. They  make all the difference in Haiti and the Dominican Republic where energy access has been a continual struggle. “Before the earthquake, Haiti had one of the lowest rates of electricity access in the world, with only 12.5 percent of its population of nine million connected to the grid. Those who had money relied on small diesel fuel generators for electricity. The cost of diesel spiked after the earthquake, putting that form of power generation even further out of reach for most Haitians.” (More here…)


Solar Powered Stoves – With little access to power and energy grids, the people of the Batey struggle with some of the simplest things we take for granted. Our goal is to have a few stations for preparing meals on functional fuel-free solar powered stoves.


Mosquito Nets – Rain water and pools of stagnant water with improper sanitation is a dream come true for mosquito populations. Help us to curb the risk of mosquito borne disease in the Caribbean. Inhabitants are susceptible to Chikungunya which has claimed some 306,837 cases  documented in  early July  of this year. Thats a spike in the cases documented just a week before 42,393 according to a Jul 3 update from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). (Read More about Chikungunya in the Dominican Republic)


Contact us with any information about donations. Also, please visit our Pubslush campaign to raise capital to fund our trip to Batey 106


5 reasons for Returning to Batey 106



1.We had such a good time in June, it is impossible to forget the experience. The lives that touched our own gave us a greater understanding of the human condition. Helping youth scratch the surface to their innermost potential was so rewarding we can’t wait to get back over there to help out some more.



2.This time we’ve got even more work planned. Our layout of workshops and aims are much higher than they were earlier in the year. Now that we know what we can accomplish, the sky’s the limit.


3.The smiles on the faces of the people of Batey 106. Some of the most charming and insightful people live in regions where the distractions of modern day don’t reach them. In that way, they hold dear the small joys in life. Rediscovering those moments is something city dwellers don’t get to do that often. Our team has a craving for doing good and this December its time to satisfy that craving.


4. Catching up with all the incredible art that we missed out on. During our time away from Batey 106, undoubtedly there are new creations awaiting us upon our return. There a surely haitian youth living in the Batey that are now keen on expressing themselves through song, painting, video, and photography. As artists they are growing. As their mentors we owe it to them to share in that beautiful growth, and coach them along the way.


5.It’s time to follow up on the nutritional program of the town and offer our help where applicable. You may have heard of the term starving artists. The occupants of the Batey’s know it all too well. The reality of malnutrition is staggering. One in 10 children dies before the age of 5. Malnourishment is serious, it accounts for developmental delay and permanent cognitive deficits. We want to give the future of Yspanola a chance.


Help us affect change this December by donating to the Batey106 Project

DONATE Art supplies  

Become an Instructor

Help us get back to Batey 106


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Under the Grass Roof presents: Omar Perez-Then, with art supply drive for Batey 106



Sunday October 5th

9:00 pm

1084 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11237

Free admission

Bring donated art supplies for the Batey106 project!

or $5 suggested donation.


Last night was a  joyous night with friends and family. We launched our first event of the season to start raising funds for another amazing year for Batey 106 project at Cafecito. Omar Perez-Then Music soothed us with his musical soul last night  while family and friends listened  intently, bringing us together with his heartfelt songs.

What is doubly exciting is we also raise funds and awareness for another organization close to our hearts, New Light Kolkata through our Drink for Good NYC Platform.


If you didn’t make it out last night,  join us this Sunday  10/5 at Bunna Cafe. with Omar Perez-Then kicking off Bunna’s “Under the Grass Roof  Sessions.”  A Ethiopian Vegetarian Restaurant, Coffeehouse, and Music Venue.  Their “Feast For Two” was recently ranked among the top 9 vegan dishes in Brooklyn (

Share in our efforts to continue art workshops in the Batey 106 community, through this new series of live performances.

Sunday, October 5 @ 9:00pm

For More information visit: