Forget stiff galleries. We’re enjoying the engaging approach to art at Yeelen Gallery, lovingly curated by owner Karla Ferguson. The gallery seeks to nurture a vibrant art scene outside Miami’s Art Basel season, with an eclectic assembly of artists reflecting the city’s many global influences. True to Miami’s festive spirit, Ferguson replaces typical cocktail openings with lively music concerts, literary readings and intimate dinner series. We chatted with Ferguson–whose exhibit “Back to Black” will be displayed Dec. 9 during this year’s Art Basel week–about her inspirations and who would make the best party guest.
What do you look for in an artist?
I want to elevate the respect given to artists that choose to speak to social issues, who give back to humanity. I don’t work with too many artists. I’m looking for rare talent that comes with deep thinking, and I’m willing to wait until I find work that expresses messages I think audiences need to hear.
How has the local art scene changed since you opened Yeelen in 2008?
Our art is starting to look more like our community. We’ve stopped pretending that we’re New York or Europe. We’re our own melting pot of cultures with a distinct voice that deserves to be heard. You see this shift at the Perez Art Museum Miami, which is showing different perspectives both in their shows and permanent collections.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Fela Kuti, of course. I don’t want the party to be male-dominated, but Bob Marley should be there, too. I don’t see them strictly as musicians, but as poets and activists. Then Celia Cruz. We don’t just want intellectuals at the party who won’t get up and dance.
The best piece of advice I ever received was…
If you never ask, the answer will always be no. I don’t remember who told me that, but I remember the first time I heard that, I knew it was true. You instantly shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t ask.
Which show are you currently binge-watching?
Lately I’ve been watching “Queen Sugar.” I think it’s an amazing portrayal of humanity. I love their positive images of black women and family. I feel this show was kind of sent to me to keep me going.