Damien Davis

WAITING ROOM: Sickle Cell Study

On view: May 17 – September 8, 2018
Broadway Windows 
Broadway and East 10th Street

The five works on view in the Broadway Windows, collectively titled WAITING ROOM: Sickle Cell Study, are themselves a part of The Blackamoors Collages, an on-going series by the artist Damien Davis. Moving between digital modes of production and gestural mark-making, Davis' painted collages abstract the site of the waiting room into a network of smooth wooden cut-outs, saturated colors, and white monochromy. Growing up with a brother who was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at a young age, Davis reflects on health and illness in his layered collages. Filtered through Davis’ childhood memories, the waiting room becomes a site of trauma, boredom, nostalgia, and occasionally, joy.

The impetus for the project began when Davis read an article about Serena Williams’ near-death experience giving birth to her daughter in a Florida hospital. Struggling to receive the care she needed, Williams’ experience is symptomatic of the racial inequalities at work in the medical field. For Davis, this story opened up a larger conversation about the American healthcare system and the substandard level of care that black bodies receive. Davis also remembers his mother acting as a vigilant advocate for her son in the hospital. As Davis explains, a lack of empathy towards black bodies—whether conscious or subconscious—persists throughout the medical fields, opening up concrete disparities in the kind of care patients are given. In the absence of equitable care, the waiting room becomes a site of disparity, contestation, and attentiveness.

WAITING ROOM investigates the visual language of the hospital as it intersects with representations of blackness. Through collage, Davis creates a mode of figuration that is not simply juxtaposition, but a mode of questioning: a way to propose new relationships between existing forms. For Davis, what is significant about these forms—whether they take the shape of waiting room toys, loose teeth, mythical creatures, microscopes, or exoticized figures—is the way in which they register differently in the mind of each viewer. Each form might signify or relate to a whole set of personal and historical memories. As Davis explains, a loose tooth can evoke a feeling of anxiety and loss for one viewer, while signifying, for another viewer, the historical legacy of a slave-trade that relied on physical markers, like teeth, to determine the economic value of an enslaved person. For Davis, the perceptual process by which objects acquire multiple and divergent meanings is critical to his artistic investigation.

Offering tenuous propositions, Davis’ work intervenes in the construction of coherent objects. His forms are fractured and reassembled, fitting together like old puzzle pieces, or fastened with protruding bolts. Staging encounters between disparate objects and utilizing various modes of production, the collages enact a kind of cognitive archival practice. Davis’ collages will be on display in the Broadway Windows until September 8th.

Written by Eva Cilman. Organized by Nicola Lees and Lucas Quigley. Thanks to Tammy Brown, Jesse Bransford, Jongho Lee, and Paula Rondon.