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Even as Damon Davis' Star Rises, His Work Most Resonates in St. Louis 

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click to enlarge Art from Darker Gods in the Garden of the Low-Hanging Heavens. - BREA MCANALLY
  • Art from Darker Gods in the Garden of the Low-Hanging Heavens.

Since much of his recent work has centered on perceptions of blackness, Davis considers if any of his art — music, photography, film — will be inextricably linked to his race.

"If I'm just being myself, that shit is gonna come out anyway because of the way I was raised and the culture I was raised in, how I view myself and how others view me," Davis says.

But, in an echo of what Darker Gods ultimately aims for, Davis says he's much more interested in talking about elements of the human experience. "I do think that I'm talking about love and anger and those things are universal things. Just 'cause there's a black face in front of it that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a statement about blackness: it's a statement about humanity."

"I'm one person; black people are not a monolith," Davis continues. "I've got a very unique upbringing and situation, and we're always charged to be a speaking body for, what, 12 million people I ain't never met? There's no way for that. But I can tell you my little piece of what I'm thinking about."

For now, at least, Davis is more comfortable telling stories and creating alternate universes. He does so, he says, in hopes of "creating the world that I want to be instead of showing the world the way it is."

"I think fiction is where I wanna be," he continues. "I can still get the same messages across. I can talk about the same political stuff, the same human nature shit."

"The funny thing is, people will believe the lies before they believe the truth. They'll believe that shit before they believe a goddamn documentary."

Davis felt "bolstered" by the support at his opening reception, says James McAnally. - THEO WELLING
  • Davis felt "bolstered" by the support at his opening reception, says James McAnally.

At his opening reception, Davis ascends the stage and takes the microphone for a few brief words of gratitude. After he thanks everyone for coming and the staff at the Luminary for making it all happen, he addresses one segment of the crowd in particular.

"I hope the black folks in the room see themselves," Davis says, "and I hope they see God."

Those words were powerful for McAnally, who notes that Davis felt "bolstered" by the support in the room. "He made a very intentional decision to show this work in St. Louis. He's at a point in his career where he could have premiered this in New York or LA or San Francisco or wherever, and for him, it was really important that it happened here," says McAnally.

For Chisholm, the simple sense of representation stood out to him in Davis' words. "I took it as I hope you see your presence in the room. Often it feels dis-balanced when you're a black artist making music. Sometimes you are the minority in the room. That doesn't always come up as an important mention, but to have that put out front as 'I hope you see yourself here,' there was just something about that that felt good. And it usually doesn't. It's usually awkward."

For Davis, much of the show sprung from the idea of "creating your own acknowledgement, creating your own ideas about things and creating your own universe for safety and comfort, because you're not allowed to have that usually," he says. "And if you're waiting on people that have historically taken that away from you to give you that, you're gonna be waiting forever."

"When we can get past that, it's gonna be a glorious day," he continues. "The stuff I'm making now won't be necessary anymore. We won't have to say, 'Black people don't get to be human beings, so I'm making them into gods.'"

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