"Darker Gods in the Garden of the Low Hanging Heavens" is acclaimed post-disciplinary artist Damon Davis' gift to his culture and his people.
In his latest Afro-surrealism project, the objective was to turn a crippling idea into power.
"I was trying to dissect the idea that black people are not seen as whole human beings. That's why it's so easy to dehumanize people from an oppressed group," Davis says. "I chose blackness because that's what I am. Why are we always superhuman or larger than life like entertainers or athletes? If not, we're seen as subhuman, but there is no in-between."
Using sound, photography, film, illustration and the written word, Davis creates modern myths and fables to tell the story of 11 deities whose superhuman characteristics come from harmful tropes and cultural ideas of Blackness.
The exhibit has been in the works for three years and is in support with Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, artist and cofounder of Black Lives Matter. Last month BLM launched their arts and culture initiative at ComplexCon which will feature media and art created within the BLM network made up of musicians, artists, and creators.
"This project allows black people to see ourselves in manifestations of all that we are, and I see Damon's work as a lineage of the black artist movement. When we talk about the Black Panther party or artists like Huey P. Newton or Angela Davis we don't often talk about the cultural work at happened in the '60s and '70s," Cullors-Brignac says. "We all wouldn't understand the black power movement if it weren't for the artists and Damon Davis is our contemporary artist for this current iteration of the black artist movement."
Power, vulnerability and western fears and infatuations of Blackness are some of the themes Davis is challenging and reclaiming through the supernatural. A lot of the work is based on religious information among other elements that have been embedded in the black culture. His idea is that all viewers will revisit the work and challenge the notions they been conditioned to as well as provoke and shock those that are uncomfortable.
"I want people to look at this work and think, What the fuck is this? I'm building an immersive, interdisciplinary world. I want them to get multiple sides and [be] viscerally shocked. It should cause a reaction," Davis says. "If it makes people uncomfortable, it should. And if it empowers another demographic, that's great too."
He continues, "There's a piece with a goddess with gold teeth and diamond eyes, and a bunch of black people at ComplexCon with grills were walking by taking pictures with it because it's familiar to them and finally a way to see it in a beautiful light. A grill is all good in a rap video because it's [like] watching an animal in a zoo — it can't get to you. If it's out in the street, it makes [some] people nervous, or for other people comfortable and like they belong in that space."
"Darker Gods" is a part of Our Basel, a series of events by Smoke Signals Studio that highlights artists addressing local issues. The exhibit also promotes increased access to the arts by offering free admission. Davis says there are not many artists who he identifies with, and it can be challenging for black artists to gain attention, particularly during Miami Art Week. Cullors-Brignac adds that the way for black art to grow is the way they are doing it now: Connecting their networks and not opting out of Basel spaces.
"This is a straight-up grassroots, me-and-the-homies event that we put together. In its essence, it's about disruption. I called up Patrisse so we could disrupt shit," Davis says. "Most of the people I've met that are activists are artists, and now is the perfect place to do it. We want our people in it. We don't want to segregate the people we are speaking for."
"Darker Gods in the Garden of the Low Hanging Heavens." 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, December 6, to Sunday, December 9, at Smoke Signals Studio, 6300 NW Second Ave., Miami; smokesignalsstudio.org. Admission is free.