TAMPA, FL — Lifelong artist Ya Levy La’ford believes she was given her creative gift to spread the universal message of hope, peace and unity, something that’s needed more than ever in a world ravaged by a pandemic and racial disparity.

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Ya La'ford will create custom-designed artwork for the 75 owners of the NFL as a Super Bowl LV tribute.

© Ya Levy La’ford
Ya La’ford will create custom-designed artwork for the 75 owners of the NFL as a Super Bowl LV tribute.

She just didn’t realize how far her message would reach until, out of the blue, she received a call from the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee.

“They wanted to know if I was interested in creating a Super Bowl commemorative gift of art for the NFL team owners,” said La’ford. “I couldn’t believe it. I just felt so humbled to be asked to create something so far-reaching.”

Every year, the NFL recognizes, honors and celebrates the contributions of its 75 NFL team owners with a gift following the Super Bowl.

LaKendria Robinson, director of business connect and community outreach for the host committee, and Bemetra Salter Liggins, chair of the business connect committee, chose La’ford to create a gift of art due to her ability to use bold, geometric designs to explore the themes of connection, transformation and transcendence. They were confident that La’Ford would be able to create a piece that would bridge the elements of arts, sports and community shared by people around the globe.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime for the Jamaican-born artist who now lives in Carrollwood, just a few miles from where the Super Bowl will be played on Sunday.

“I was thrilled,” said La’ford, who considers herself an abstract expressionist.

La’ford surpassed her benefactors’ expectations. Her piece, called “SUN-SPHERE,” highlights the cyclical relationship with the Super Bowl host city of Tampa, the NFL owners, the fan connection to the athletes and the relevance of sports in stimulating global unification.

“SUN-SPHERE is a dramatic geometric abstract tribute created for each NFL team owner that bridges the energizing power of art, sports and community with the memorable experience of Superbowl 55 in sunny Tampa Bay,” La’ford said. “Designed to be a visually arresting experience, SUN-SPHERE captivates just like the talented football athletes on the field who amaze their fans with athletic feats and heroic efforts.”

The piece incorporates 55 lines, representing the number of Super Bowls that have been played.

“The lines show the retroactive nature of the ability to trace back to a beginning,” she said. “Regardless of how much our path may differ from another’s, the core of the human condition remains the same. The complexities we feel – the joys, the humiliations, the strife – are branches stemming from the root of this obsession.”

Unity is a theme that infuses all of La’ford’s artworks, large and small, whether it’s a painting, a mural or a major installation.

“My focus is to create a platform to reach the masses, to bridge and unify humanity through a universal language of shapes and angles and patterns,” she said.

La’ford earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, a juris doctor (law) degree from the University of Florida and a master’s in fine arts from the Art Institute of Boston.

After graduating from the art institute, she promptly headed back to Tampa Bay, although she maintains studios in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

“It’s my Jamaican heritage,” she said. “I crave the vibration, energy, sun and heat. It always brings me back to Tampa Bay.”

When she isn’t creating arts, she’s teaching it as an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa.

For La’ford, art isn’t something to simply hang on a wall and casually observe for a few minutes.

It’s intended to be an experience that challenges conventional thinking, that “immeasurably transforms and revolutionizes the social, cultural and historic contexts of creative expression within the human journey.”

“Art should embrace all walks of life no matter your age, socio-economic status, gender or race,” she said. “It’s not something that you just appreciate. It speaks a language of peace, hope and unity.

That’s apparent in her current installation titled “Distance” on display through Feb. 25 at Gallery 221 on Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus, just across the street from Raymond James Stadium where the Super Bowl will take place.

“It’s a full immersive space that’s completely taken over by the installation, so you become a part of the art walk,” she said.

At a time when there’s so much anger, anxiety and fear in the world, she believes art has the power to heal.

“It takes people to different place, a portal where they can recreate themselves and share the beauty and magic of life,” she said. “When you can create artwork that resonates an emotion through patterns, you’re touching on the depth of the human species.”

Those interested in experiencing L’ford’s “Distance” can make reservations at the gallery, 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa.

Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.

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