June 14 2016 01:59 PM

Photographer Damon Davis explores Ferguson at MCASD

All Hands on Deck
Photo by Seth Combs

In this semi-regular department, arts editor Seth Combs reviews a notable new art show or exhibition.

Context is important when viewing the work of Damon Davis. The St. Louis-based interdisciplinary artist has spent much of the past few years creating works that attempt to examine the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the movements and protests that resulted from it. The All Hands on Deck series of photographs, some of which are now on display at the La Jolla location of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (700 Prospect St.), were originally mass-produced and plastered up on abandoned buildings around St. Louis and Ferguson. To see them framed and mounted in one of the most affluent cities in the U.S. is ironic, indeed.

That's not to imply that the power of the photos is dulled or muted by seeing them in this context. These are important works that are the very definition of "contemporary" and I applaud MCASD for bringing them to the attention of viewers who may have otherwise never seen them. The photos themselves are of individual sets of hands from residents of Ferguson. The hands are raised up, palms open, to resemble Brown's gesture just before he was killed by a white police officer. In the photos, the tips of the fingers blur as if covered in clouds and the fingers themselves can often resemble cement pillars. The child's hands in "All Hands on Deck #3" are both touching and beautiful, heart-wrenching and distorted.

The exhibition is displayed inside a small back gallery overlooking the La Jolla Cove, and I'd be interested to know if this was intentional. I highly recommend going in the late afternoon. It is around this time that the rays of the sun will shine through a small vertical window toward the back of the gallery. At one point, I walked over to the window and looked out at the cove and at the waves below. It was nice to dreamily forget, even for a moment, about the violence that permeates everyday American life. Then I turned around to see those hands around me. And I woke up.

Damon Davis, All Hands on Deck #3
Courtesy of Wildwood Press, St. Louis

Damon Davis, All Hands on Deck #4
Courtesy of Wildwood Press, St. Louis

Damon Davis, All Hands on Deck #2
Courtesy of Wildwood Press, St. Louis


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