By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Yolonda “Yogi Dada” Carter’s artistry is limited only by her imagination.
Carter has produced a work she’s named GRAFFICA which is set to premiere on February 12 as part of ArtWorks@TheDJD, a new cutting-edge digital performance series that will feature short-form multi-media content by local artists presented online to virtual audiences across Alabama and beyond.
The series itself begins January 29. “To be a part of the series is a blessing and the DJD team has been stellar,” she said, referring to the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
Yogi Dada describes GRAFFICA as a type of gumbo for the soul, blending her artwork with poetry, music, rap, dance and storytelling.
“This is my personal story of my life as a human finding a passion, as a brown girl who grew up in a white world, and as an artist,” Yogi Dada said.
She creates hand-painted, original wood works of art as earrings and bracelets and even pictures. In addition to being a painter she is also a performance artist (poet, singer, author, sign language artist, rapper, African djembe player).
She began painting at age 4 with her mother’s encouragement and evidently exhibited great talent. “My mother put the first paintbrush in my hand. I pursued art all the way through college, earning my bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Alabama in Birmingham . . . I was often told my artwork was ‘too bright’ or ‘too ethnic’, it really wore on my identity as an artist. So, after graduation I stopped painting for 17 years. I worked as an optician during this time.”
Her mother, Victoria Carter, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2008 and died from the disease in 2009.
“We weren’t really prepared for it emotionally,” Yogi Dada said. “The stress of working, caregiving, and seeing your loved one go down physically can break you. You have to be really well-educated about the medical system, insurance, care options. … Even that level of research can be challenging while you’re working and caregiving.”
Yogi Dada and her father cared for her mother. At the time, she had a sales position in optical retail; she worked during the day and took care of her mother before work and in the evenings. Eventually, she switched to a part-time schedule to take care of her mother.
Yogi Dada, who was raised in upstate New York, found strength from taking care of her mother: “I saw how she fought, her diligence, and her faith in God through the entire process. … [I grew] in God during that time, [too], because I had to lean on Him for supernatural strength. I really think [my mother and I] both had a spiritual growth because it made me call on God in a whole different kind of way as a caregiver and as a person going through it.”
‘Keep Going, Sugar’
Yogi Dada said that her mother would tell her years later that she prayed her daughter could leave her more traditional job to pursue art full-time. After her mother’s passing from breast cancer, which Yogi Dada said was the lowest point in her own life, she gathered the strength and determination to make a new start. She did, in fact, quit her job and began painting with renewed passion.
“In 2010, I picked up my brush again and the first Dadas were made,” she said. “I hand-painted a set of large, flat wooden earrings with funky graffiti style motifs telling my story, ‘NY Chick/Poet/RocCity/Rapper.’ I wore them throughout Atlanta while visiting a friend for a few days and everywhere I went people asked, “WHERE did you get those earrings?!” It was shocking! After a year of virtually giving Dadas away, I prayed and asked God if this was a business opportunity. He replied, ‘Who gave you the gift to paint?’ By 2012 YOGI DADA became an LLC.”
In addition to local customers who regularly purchase from her at pop-up shops and online, her celebrity product buyers (and wearers) include actress Countess Vaughn, singer Melanie Fiona, singer Natalie “The Floacist” of the group Floetry and comedienne and actress Adele Givens.
The journey has been anything but smooth, Yogi Dada said.
“The hardest parts have been doing it alone, becoming secure in my gift, learning to think like a business owner, and access to sufficient capital,” Yogi Dada said. “My mother was my biggest supporter. Without her here, I often felt utterly alone on this new path of leaving a corporate job and returning to my childhood passion. But I remember the words she whispered to me one day, “Keep going sugar, it’s worth it.”
On a daily basis, it can be challenging to stay motivated, she continued. “As a “solopreneur” I manage creating the artwork, photography, editing, website, marketing, promotion and branding, shipping and fulfillment, Customer Service, design consultations, inventory, bookkeeping, social media and more. But I do it by God’s grace. . . . It is the actuality of walking on my path with passion and love that makes me a success in the eyes of God.”
In addition to her art, Yogi Dada said her focus is on raising money for Black art students in the city.
She has teamed up with local business Chocolatá owner Kathy D’Agostino who has wrapped Yogi Dada’s most popular art pieces around her Magic City crafted chocolate bars to create the “Dea Africa” series. Fifty percent of every purchase from the series goes into a fund that Black art students can use to buy $100 worth of art supplies at Forstall Art Center in downtown Birmingham. The chocolate can be purchased online or stop by Chocolatá’s shop at 1927 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham.
“If a student wants to buy an art kit, which can range between $50 to $200, or get some supplies or try a new medium, this can take some stress off them financially,” Yogi Dada said.
My introduction to performance art started with my mother encouraging me to get on stage one night at a poetry open mic to share my poetry. I was terrified. But that night changed my life. Since then I have performed at various venues all over the country and received an Emmy Award Nomination as part of a collective work with other Birmingham Artists for our soundtrack to ” Mr. Dial Has Something to Say.”
My performances have expanded to include sign language to music, vocals, rap, sharing inspirational stories and in recent years adding African Djembe. My passion is to share love and inspiration in a way that every human can receive.
ONE OF A KIND WEARABLE ART
It starts with wood and passion. I see colors in mathematical equations, waiting to be solved with the stroke of my brush. Brilliant paint and spiritual connectivity are my mediums. Expressing geometric and fluid images in multiple layers to provide rich, luxurious color. I give attention to every surface designing my wearable art on the front and back, finishing the fine edges with my signature turquoise. The finished artwork is coated with quality lacquer and affixed with sterling silver fixtures. Tiny Swarovski crystals are hand placed in just the right location to highlight the
“ROCK DEM DADAS”
My Signature Series Dadas are some of my most popular items! These Dadas are high quality replicas of my original artwork. Just like my one of a kind hand painted Custom Dadas, these are designed with vibrant, funky artwork on all four sides, affixed with sterling silver fixtures and come in several light weight sizes, Ear Bangers, Dadas, and Diddies. My amazing Clients share a common experience, the excitement of sharing their personal pics in their Dadas. So much so, it developed into a social media slogan. I Invite you to join our family and the movement, are you ready to “ROCK DEM DADAS?!”
After almost a decade of painting on small pieces of wood I found the courage to return to canvas, my first love. My world changed from inches to feet and I was a bit overwhelmed. I heard my mother’s voice, “Do it afraid.” Today I have a ritual to approaching my canvas. I approach with dignity and power, I breathe and remind myself of my freedom and I ask God to lead my hands. I have found a special place in my heart for large canvases as they can absorb my being in a unique way. My style is a combination of spiritual and genetic identity combined with urban graffiti. I believe every artist has their own genius, mine is the flow of freedom.
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