Alumni Profiles, News

Alumna’s Art Adorns TIME Magazine ‘Division & Destiny’ Cover

Photo by Jonathan Kolbe.

Artwork by Lavett Ballard, a 2014 graduate of Rutgers University–Camden, is featured on the cover of the latest issue of TIME, the second instance her work has graced the magazine.

Three years ago, when TIME asked Ballard to create artwork to appear on the magazine’s cover, she didn’t believe the initial email. “I thought ‘This has got to be a scam. But it turned out to be the real thing.” Her image of Rosa Parks and four other women who led the Civil Rights-era bus boycotts was one of ten pieces of art that TIME featured in a series of Women’s History Month covers in 2020.

Time Cover

The request didn’t come as a surprise this time, but Ballard was nonetheless thrilled. “Wow,” she says. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.” In addition to her work on the new cover featuring “Division & Destiny: How to Build a True American Democracy,” a story by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson, two additional pieces by her appear in the magazine.

A TIME article about her artwork says that for this issue, Ballard “brought together images speaking to themes including the history of American slavery, book banning, and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But she also reached for images of people who show an alternate, positive side of American history, from Martin Luther King Jr. to lesser-known figures such as Viola Liuzzo.”

The article also explores Ballard’s technique and messages. “Ballard’s visual practice involves layering images, mostly of ordinary African Americans, to create visual connections from past to present. The artist’s use of picket fences is powerfully symbolic of an idyllic life, and also of exclusion, and the idea that on the other side of that fence lies inclusion and safety.”

Ballard’s use of picket fencing began when she was a Rutgers–Camden student. She was seeking a distinctive surface for her mixed media project depicting African American women when nature intervened. “It just so happened my neighbor’s fence got knocked down during a storm,” says Ballard, who lives in Willingboro, New Jersey. “My husband helped to remove the fence, and I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to use this fencing for my senior thesis.’”

Ballard cleaned up the old wooden picket fence and started painting on it. As she worked, she thought about a line from August Wilson’s play Fences: “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

“That line has so much symbolism with what I was trying to paint,” she says.

Ballard’s success comes after more than 30 years of creating art, dating back to her high school years in northern New Jersey. She enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York but left to give birth to her first child. She continued to paint while raising a family and working different insurance, finance, and human resources jobs. She returned to college in her 30s to earn an associate degree at Burlington County College before enrolling at Rutgers–Camden in 2011.

After graduating from Rutgers–Camden, she earned an M.F.A. at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In 2019, Ballard’s artwork on the identity of African American women earned her national recognition. Black Art in America named her as one of the top 10 female emerging artists to collect, which resulted in several prominent collections, including the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art, acquiring her artwork.

This semester, Ballard returned to Rutgers–Camden, where she is teaching the course “Painting I” as a part-time lecturer. “I’m really excited to be back home,” she says. “It’s good to tell my students that I was sitting right where they are.”