Damon Davis plumbs the depths of Black history, fantasy, and mythology to create a vision of power and resilience in his St. Louis exhibition.
In his seminal 1939 Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire famously proclaimed: “We are standing now, my country and I, hair in the wind, my hand puny in its enormous fist and now the strength is not in us but above us, in a voice that drills the nights and the hearing like the penetrance of an apocalyptic wasp. And the voice proclaims that for centuries Europe has fore-fed us with lies and bloated us with pestilence.”
The radical spirit and sensory immediacy of Césaire’s Notebook are palpable in Damon Davis’s most recent exhibition, Darker Gods in the Garden of the Low-Hanging Heavens, on view at St. Louis’s the Luminary. Allegorically driven through 12 divine characters whose backstories are lyrically rendered in the gallery guide, the show plumbs the depths of Black history, fantasy, and mythology to propose a radical vision of resilience and transformative power.
“I was calling a lot of my work Afro-Futurist before because it was the only term I had heard before that described any kind of Black experience based in fantasy and imagination,” Davis related in an interview with Hyperallergic. “When I found out what Afro-Surrealism was, I knew this project in particular was definitely in this genre.” A polymath who has called his creative practice “part therapy, part social commentary,” Davis is an artist, DJ, music producer, and writer whose passions merge in Darker Gods for an immersive multi-sensory experience.
Known best for the unflinching 2017 Ferguson documentary Whose Streets?, which he co-directed with Brooklyn-based filmmaker Sabaah Foloyan, Davis is a self-described “post-disciplinary” artist whose political goals are always at the forefront of his work, even if, as in the case of the Luminary show, they are more poeticized than polemical. He is also quick to point out that art necessarily plays a limited role in a larger project of reclaiming Black power. “I think any problem creates opportunities for creative response,” Davis reflected, “and systemic erasure is no different. But it will take more than artistic narratives to correct hundreds of years of erasure.”
Through a mythos at once epic and earthly, Darker Gods celebrates Black bodies that confront and reckon with history as a continuum of the past, present, and future — the creation story a catalyst for rejecting White lies. This show both asks and dares to answer the question of how to escape the literal and metaphorical shackles of centuries of abuse and erasure. Even for those unfamiliar with the Yoruban and Greek allusions throughout, Black life clearly “matters” here not simply for the distinctive draw of each of these characters, but for their collective strength as they pull the rug out from under our colonized consciousness.
Darker Gods in the Garden of the Low-Hanging Heavens continues at the Luminary (2701 Cherokee Street, St. Louis, Missouri) through July 12.