MIAMI BEACH — Thousands of years ago, Western written language evolved from the pictograph (direct representations of a subject) to the alphabet (symbols representing sounds). For example, the Egyptian hieroglyphic for an eagle was an image of an eagle. Through a series of transformations by way of the Phoenicians and the Greeks, the Egyptian eagle ultimately devolved into the Roman letter “A.” Here in the 21st century we have come full circle, having returned to the use of pictographs in the form of icons and emojis.
Damien Davis’s installation of plexiglass collages, Collapse: Black Wall Street Study explores the development and use of written language to tell his own stories. Davis has developed a lexicon of negritude: race-specific signifiers, autobiographical fragments, visceral symbols of oppression, and technology-derived icons. Here, afro picks, cowrie shells, Nefertiti profile currency, Black bodies, and hoodies are the new pictographs. “I love the idea,” Davis says,
that I can take these larger abstract ideas about what being Black means or what it can mean or what it looks like. Break it down into a really sort of base iconic form and then stretch the limits of what it’s capable of doing narratively by constantly remixing and re-juxtaposing them into new works.
The subject of the installation is the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 — a buried part of American history that isn’t widely discussed because it doesn’t easily fit into our national mythology. The violent attack by white supremacists resulted in the destruction of the city’s Greenwood district, one of the most prominent communities for Black businesses during the early 20th century, popularly known as “Black Wall Street.”
The massacre occurred after a 19-year-old Black man, Dick Rowland, stepped into an elevator in downtown Tulsa. Moments later the white female elevator operator was heard to utter a shriek that was quickly reported as being a cry of “rape.”
Rowland was arrested and a lynch mob surrounded the jail. Black WWI veterans arrived to protect him. A shot was fired. White Tulsa residents descended upon Greenwood, killing some three hundred Black residents, injuring hundreds more, and destroying 40 city blocks, leaving 10,000 people homeless.
The attack on Greenwood included an air assault in which white rioters dropped kerosene bombs from small planes. A state commission report in 2001 stated that, “Tulsa was likely the first city in the (United States) to be bombed from the air.” Eyewitness Buck Colbert Franklin reported seeing planes circling and hearing something like hail falling into the top of his office building. And upon walking outside,“The sidewalks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top.”
In “Black Gold Miner,” Davis chose a color palette and icons to symbolize the relationship between Blackness and wealth and, indeed, to symbolize Black wealth itself — seen as a threat to Tulsa’s White population during Jim Crow. Davis notes that a high level of state-sanctioned violence on Black bodies is something that happens every day,
but to see it play out at that scale and in that way is a very scary thing to think about … we are getting close to the 100th anniversary of this massacre. I think that it’s an important time to bring this back up because it opens up all these other conversations about what happens when Black people amass wealth, power, and influence for themselves. There is an acknowledgement that needs to be made about the precariousness and the danger that Black people still face just by self-actualization.
Davis pushes against the boundaries of the two-dimensional collage format; works extend from the wall into layered sculptural compositions. The steel nuts and bolts that fasten the laser cut plexiglas components let light and air through the layers. The work invites the viewer to read the narrative in Davis’s language, contemplate, and ask questions. Most importantly, they invite viewers to join in on a conversation nearly 100 years past due.
Damien Davis’s Collapse (Greenwood Study) is a series of 23 new works from his Blackamoors Collage series.. The works will remain on view in a solo presentation at the Latchkey Gallery booth at Untitled Art Fair (1144 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach) through December 8, 2019, as part of Miami Art Week 2019. The installation will later have its institutional presentation at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn (158 Buffalo Avenue, Brooklyn) from January 20, 2020 – March 5, 2020.
In an exhibition that consists of mostly small-scale black and white works on paper, viewer engagement almost magically awakens the sleepy room.
Maria Maea’s All in Time continues an intergenerational conversation and exemplifies the artist’s process, not simply the finished pieces.
This adventurous theater festival returns in person with 36 artists and companies from nine countries performing at different venues across the city.
Koestler Arts works with incarcerated people and patients in secure mental health units, aiming to improve their lives through creativity.
Local artists and culture workers are wondering how the arena will impact the arts landscape, including museums and alternative spaces.
Learn more about the New York-based, globally linked program and its upcoming discussions on art and society in the time of AI and data governance.
Huaca Pintada comprises a rare mixture of elements of two northern Peruvian civilizations.
Lensa AI’s digital avatars have captivated users, but some say the app is stealing from artists and reflects racial stereotypes.
The program, along with recently announced visiting critics, will provide long term funding, promote access, and safeguard experimentation for future students of color.
New research contests the myth that it was Christianity’s opposition to public nudity that led to the decline in large-scale bathing in the late Roman Empire.
An exhibition at San Francisco’s Letterform Archive highlights typography’s role in iconic social movements from the 1800s through the present.
Rocks, ducks, and a self-organized survey of Gingham are some of the things to see right now in four Chicago art galleries.
Three weeks into their strike, part-time professors are escalating their protests, backed by public figures and disgruntled parents.