Tucked away on the lower level of the New Haven Free Public Library, vibrant artwork depicting black women in joyous scenes will be on view until March 4.
The images on display — some painted and some produced digitally — are the work of self-taught local artist Alana Ladson. Ladson’s current exhibit “Queens” will be formally introduced to the public during a Feb. 4 opening reception and is both free and open to the public. “Queens” is the first of six exhibitions the library will show over the course of the year. A common thread running throughout the six exhibits is a focus on reflecting the diversity of the New Haven community.
“I remember when I was younger I didn’t really have a lot of books, pictures or art with people that looked like me, it felt like I couldn’t see myself anywhere,” Ladson said. “I want to make sure more people are seen.”
Ladson said she draws her artistic inspirations from her desire to uplift women of color. According to her exhibit’s official description, “Queens” intends to correct the “appropriated, mistreated and misunderstood,” media presentation of the black woman and family unit. Ladson said she hopes to shine a light on the beauty of natural Afro-Caribbean hair textures and skin colors in a relatable and peaceful manner. Above all, Ladson said she wants her pieces to bring happiness to those that look at them while also conveying a sense of power and dignity.
“I want them to promote that peace and calm, but I still want to demonstrate more of a quiet storm type of effect,” she said.
In addition to painting and drawing, Ladson uses affordable technological tools as a medium for reaching her audience. She said she uses “Procreate,” a $5.99 iPad app, to sketch designs with the help of a tablet pen, instead of Adobe Photoshop, a more expensive image-editing software that requires a fast computer speed.
NHFPL Community Engagement and Communications Manager Ashley Sklar said the library has had a gallery for displaying art for years but only decided to launch an official library program this year.
“[The library] is an institution that serves everyone in the community and I wanted the gallery to be reflective of that. I wanted it to be an open and accessible opportunity for everyone,” Sklar said, adding that she hopes everyone will be able to identify with either a piece of art or an artist over the course of the year.
The library issued an open call to artists last fall, giving them roughly six weeks to submit their work and potentially be included in the exhibit. Selection was conducted by a panel of judges made up of community members and library staff. Sklar said the display has already garnered positive reception from library patrons.
David Greco, a member of the NHFPL board of directors and executive director of Arte Inc., a New Haven nonprofit that promotes Latino art, was on the panel that selected Ladson. He said her bright, colorful pieces and status as an emerging artist impressed the panel.
Greco said he hopes members of the public from different backgrounds who come to gallery openings will be able to communicate and break down stereotypes together. He also hopes the library will expand the space it displays art in, as the years progress.
The NHFPL’s Ives Main Library was completed in 1911 and expanded in 1990.