By Chelsea Booth
When Latifah Ford isn’t creating her own work, she’s busy painting murals in Brooklyn. Her work is vibrant, bursting with color and soul. And unlike many of the colorful new murals in Brooklyn that are commissioned by real estate companies to gentrify neighborhoods and raise property values, Latifah’s murals preserve and reclaim ownership of the community she grew up in. Her work is a reminder to neighborhood newcomers that the people who grew up there are still there and they still matter.
Here at Lullavie, we were fortunate enough to get to ask Latifah a few questions.
Do you think being born and raised in Brooklyn influenced the art you create now?
I grew up in Breukelen Projects in the back of Canarsie. There aren’t any murals; there’s no art that stands out to grab your attention walking by. That’s definitely something I want to change.
I think you have already started to change that. Tell me about the Black Lives Matter mural you did.
This mural was done in the community center in my neighborhood– a predominantly black neighborhood. The center director told me he wanted something historic, that would represent the community. The teens that I worked with gave me lots of ideas and they helped me paint it. The bottom left corner had a bag of skittles and an Arizona juice can. One of the teen boys wanted to add that in because [he said,] “I could of been Trayvon Martin. I have bros who were killed just like Trayvon Martin.” He was so proud of that contribution to the wall. The sad part of it all is that a few months ago, I discovered that this mural, along with the others me and the kids created, were painted over. I found out after.
That’s truly awful. I’m so sorry. Since you’re a self taught artist, is art something that has always been with you or something you discovered later in life?
I’ve been a little creator since preschool. I remember drawing on classroom blocks and getting scared when the teacher found them, thinking I was getting in trouble. I would get art supplies in return and draw things at home, then bring them to school. I got to create the t-shirts for my senior year of elementary school. I didn’t discover that I was good at painting until about 3 years ago after going to a sip and paint.
When/what was the moment you realized you wanted to be an “artist?”
I get so much positive feedback from my work. It’s a real good feeling. But I’m also very humble. I was told it’s okay to brag a little– I might try one day [Laughs.]
Once I started seeing other local artists actually making money from their work, I was gassed. Like ‘Nah I’m next.’ After participating in at least 10-15 art shows, I finally sold a painting straight from the gallery wall. Once I saw that it was possible for me, it was on. I wanted more. It’s always nice when someone hits me up for a custom piece, but when someone sees something that I already created from my own mind… it feels amazing!
Who are some artists you look up to and are inspired by?
My favorite artist is a female muralist from Detroit by the name of Sydney G James. She’s so dope, but is so humble. I got to chat with her and she gave me some really useful tips when it comes to making murals. I have to meet her in person. I also love Danielle Weber. Her work is amazing. I find a new artist with work I admire, daily on Instagram. Dope artists are everywhere.
So are you doing art full time now?
I still haven’t committed to being a full-time artist. I still have my day job. But I promise you it’s coming. I’m currently employed at Manhattan Youth, working with kids in the after school program. We’ll be creating murals.
I can’t wait to see those new murals. Hopefully they will be more permanent. What else is next for you?
The biggest project I’m working on right now is hosting my first solo art show. I’m creating 6 new paintings and I’m racing the clock. I’ve done over 20 group shows– I’m ready for my own. I’m also planning a series of sip and paints and next year I will work on starting a children’s book, writing and illustrating it myself. I will be going on an art tour, going to different cities and countries participating in art shows. And I plan on creating lots more murals.
Sounds like you’re gonna be hella busy. Any advice you’d give someone who wants to take on art as a full-time career?
I want everyone to know its okay to take jobs before doing art full-time that don’t pay a lot in money. It may pay you a lot in experience and connects. The first mural I ever made was a group project and the pay was terrible. But I kept going because I needed that experience. I had never done it before, so getting hands on experience was so important to me. Those low paying jobs helped me learn so much. Shit I’m still learning.
Catch Latifah painting live at Lullavie’s benefit show for Flint, Michigan: Submergence on December 1st. And don’t miss Latifah’s first solo art show the next day!
Get tickets to Submergence here.
Get tickets to Latifah’s solo art show here.