Artist Damon Davis Uses The Supernatural To Fight Misrepresentation Of Black Americans In The Media

Dec 6, 2018

St. Louis-based artist Damon Davis has always been interested in how identity is formed through mythology and "the stories we tell ourselves." Now he's exhibiting work in Little Haiti that tackles notions of black representation in mainstream media.

His exhibit, “Darker Gods in The Garden of The Low Hanging Heavens,” is a mix of photography, film and illustrations. It will be on display Dec. 5 to 9 at Smoke Signals Studio in Little Haiti. The gallery is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Davis and Smoke Signals Studio co-founder Aja Monet joined Sundial to talk about the creation of his work. 

Davis: I'm really interested in how mythology shapes identity and the myths and the stories that we tell ourselves ... what it has to do with us defining ourselves and how others define us. So this project started about three years ago when I was working around the idea of why black people are not seen as whole human beings. And then as my ideas started to evolve I decided I wanted to try to get more proactive about it and start thinking about the world that I want to live in and not so much regurgitating what the world is or what we see every day.

WLRN: Something really fascinating that I had read about is how people seem to look at like a black man either as supernatural or subhuman.

There is no middle ground exactly. We rarely get to be full fledged human beings with nuance and complexity. And as I kept making work just around the current state of things, especially with the black community, I realized that I wanted to go straight to the superhuman or supernatural people to see the different traits that we share in the black community or even these tropes that people make up about us and taking who we are and turning it into a negative thing. I kind of want to flip the script on that.

Aja, how did you decide to bring Damon and his work to South Florida for this exhibit?

Monet: Smoke Signals' mission has always been intentional art and trying to figure out: how do we create the world we want to see and how do we get artists to recognize their relationship to helping us imagine another world and possibilities? For us, the community, the black community, always valued Damon's art. It's only now maybe that the art world will take notice and pretty much put the resources into the artists that we believe in in the ways that we believe it should be. Because art is not this thing to be on a white wall and just be gawked at. I think it's something that has a purpose as a sense of urgency. It tells stories. It has a function in society and so for us we are just here to elevate the function of art. I'm looking forward to the conversations that come out of the work and the ways that people not just see themselves in the sense of representation and identity politics but the ways that they maybe never saw themselves. They perhaps see themselves in new lights and new ways and we can begin to have conversations for moving forward. What needs to happen in our lives and in action that takes place after being inspired by this work.

Damon, let me ask you about one of the pieces. This one is called "Blake the Great." Describe that for us.

Davis: The images of a small child with a third eye in the middle of his head and the rest of his body is kind of evaporating. "Black the Great" is the god of ingenuity and creativity. He's the God of jazz and hip-hop and rock-and-roll and fashion slang and all of those things that can be easily separated from black people but everybody loves to commodify and take away from us.

And this maybe goes back to you know some of the spiritual symbolism that you were talking about.

The third eyes is a symbol I've been seeing my entire life and in different cultures, but the way I'm using it is to show that he has an awareness and a creative power that is a sixth sense. It's him being aware and he's a child so he is untainted. It's an innocent creativity.

Watch our interview with Damon Davis and Alejandra Martinez touring Darker Gods.