MOUNT LAUREL >> Lavett Ballard has stories to tell. These stories, capturing the African American experience within a historical framework, upend familiar narratives with regal accessories, royal color palettes and symbolic imagery. The result? The oppressed regain a power previously lost to enslavement.
Ballard’s works are layered with meaning -- both literally and figuratively. Her medium of choice is mixed media collage. She affixes photographs, newspaper clippings, paint and other materials to wooden fencing, a canvas symbolizing how fences divide, just as racial and gender identities can. Even the titles of her pieces -- “I am Enough,” “Broken yet Healed” and “She Reigns” -- beckon the viewer to feel and think. But she does more than pick up the pieces of a poignant, often very painful past. She brings those pieces together to generate renewal, breathing new life into stories that have been told many times before.
Lavett, of Willingboro, experienced many firsts at Rowan College at Burlington County. It was at RCBC where she exhibited her first solo show, won her first art prize, first dabbled in teaching and cut her professional curation teeth. Many of her original works are now part of the college's collection.
“I do like the fact that a lot of my firsts were at RCBC, and the opportunities, field trips and book recommendations from my professors helped me to develop a passion for art,” Ballard shared.
In January 2020, just before COVID-19 turned the world upside-down, Ballard received an email that would change her life. It was from D.W. Pine, creative director of TIME magazine. Pine was in the process of curating a series of covers for TIME’s 100 Women of the Year, a project selecting a woman or group to represent each year from 1920 to 2019. He requested to feature Ballard’s artwork in a piece including Rosa Parks and the bus boycotters.
“I used Rosa as the centerpiece because she was the one who was able to bring the movement to fruition,” Ballard said. “I also used images of the buses, of people standing outside waiting, of people walking and yellow roses to represent freedom.”
Following the TIME magazine release, Ballard was invited to show her work in solo exhibitions at three universities, as well as have her work included in six university collections. She was invited to be represented by both Long-Sharp Gallery in Indianapolis and NYC and the Galerie Myrtis Fine Art & Advisory in Baltimore. Her pieces have been purchased by celebrities including Jill Scott, Grant Hill and C.C.H. Pounder. She’s currently preparing works to feature in the UTA galleries annual group exhibition which works in conjunction with Tina Knowles’ wearable art gala exhibit this September in California.
Among her many accolades, Ballard is a Yaddo Artist residency recipient for 2020. She’s also been nominated for a Pew Foundation residency and named by Black Art in America as one of the Top 10 Female Emerging Artists to Collect. She hopes to someday be featured at the MOMA, the Whitney and in international shows in Paris, Italy and China.
After all this time, Ballard still thinks fondly of her RCBC experiences. In fact, she’s now encouraging her son to follow in her footsteps and attend RCBC.
“I’m not saying that you need to go to college just because that’s what your parents want you to do,” Ballard said. “I want you to go to college to be around different people, to learn how to deal with different personalities. When you go to college, everyone’s going for something different -- some people are taking extra classes for their job, some people are going to better themselves, some people are going because they have higher aspirations -- and you meet all of those people in a community college setting.”