Hernease Davis’ Photograms On View at Visual Studies Workshop

Hernease Davis’ Photograms On View at Visual Studies Workshop

Hernease Davis: A Womb of My Own (Mistakes Were Made in Development)
On view May 4-June 29, 2018
VSW Gallery, Rochester, NY

One of the benefits I’ve had since hosting the monthly Dodge & Burn Critique Group has been to witness the development of this body of work from one of our most dedicated artists, Hernease Davis. So when I was asked to write a catalog essay for her solo show at the Visual Studies Workshop, I jumped at the opportunity to affirm my thoughts on Davis’ use of photograms as a method of self care.

Below is an excerpt from my catalog essay titled An Impossible Fecundity. I do hope you get a chance to go and see this show which is currently on view a the VSW Gallery.

In the words of writer and activist Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Using traditional B&W photography, crochet, and performance/song as tools for self-care, Hernease Davis engages in a kind of sacred pampering that goes beyond the catharsis historically associated with art making. Hers is a creative act of wellness and survival that for centuries has been denied to Black women.

The gridded photograms in Davis’ multidisciplinary installation A Womb of My Own (Mistakes Were Made In Development) visualize a desire for personal rebirth and renewal after enduring years of traumatic personal and political events. The title of this series of works made over a (gestation) period of four years references the female organ responsible for conceiving and gestating life. Davis’ light-sensitive womb is a dark, silent, and regenerative space that she has created as a refuge for her mind and body.

Davis describes the process of making these life-sized self-portraits: “I make my photograms in my living room, shutting out all light. In complete darkness, I set up my paper, and then I lay down. This 48″ x 60″ space is a surface for movement, rest, meditation, anger, etc. I trigger a flash of light when I am ready and done. Each panel is developed individually to complete the image, but also serves as another dark space of self-care.”

Some of the net-like patterns within the black emulsive waters of Davis’ camera-less images are made by the crochet blanket and pillow forms that she has painstakingly fabricated. Davis’ use of this traditionally female craft, learned from her family members, functions as a meditative act of self-care. The methodical interlocking of loops of yarn with both hands can induce mindfulness, thereby reducing stress and enforcing one’s presence in the here and now.

For some early insight on this series, read Hernease Davis’ Dodge & Burn blog interview (2016) by Patricia Silva.

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