Kenturah Davis: clouds

31 May-20 Jul 2024
PV 31 May 2024, 6-8pm

Stephen Friedman Gallery
London W1S 3LQ


Stephen Friedman Gallery is pleased to present clouds, Kenturah Davis’ debut solo exhibition in the UK. The drawing series that comprise this show are united by a common text—an essay penned by Davis that explores perception as an expressive and existential state. The artist’s writing flows through themes of dance, African diaspora, musical notation, literature, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and theoretical physics, invoking the guiding voices of the choreographer Katherine Dunham, composer Florence B. Price, theorist Saidiya Hartman, author Toni Morrison, and physicist Carlo Rovelli. Each of Davis’ bodies of work is a study in movement that translates photographs taken by the artist. Though composed on a flat page, Davis recognises her drawings as dimensional vessels, planes where she charts, layers, and reimagines significance.

Two of Davis’ series are portrait-based: the first, grouped drawings of figures in various postures. During photo shoots for these studies, the artist invited Black women to come to her studio and improvise movement, capturing their gestures with long-exposure photographs resulting in kinetic, unbound physiques. Drawing closer to the work, portions of Davis’ essay emerge, detailing the extraordinary careers of Katherine Dunham and Florence B. Price, two trailblazing Black creatives of the twentieth century who used art to pursue individual and societal metamorphosis. As a choreographer, Dunham infused dance with her background in anthropology, using her body as a vehicle to express radical ideas about space, time, and diaspora. As the first Black female musician to compose for a national symphony orchestra, Price arranged music to navigate states of instability, transition, and freedom—such as in her rediscovered piece Clouds. 

Davis’ second portrait series features single drawings of figures framed with recessed mantles that display vessels of various proportions. Designed by the artist and carved by her partner, each of these sculptures was crafted from one of two types of wood: ebony from Ghana, where the artist lived for many years, and ash from Los Angeles, sourced from a tree at her home. These multimedia works can be likened to her series Text(tiles), multi-panel artworks that juxtapose portraits with woven fabrics, underscoring the etymological root of text from the Latin word “to weave.” Inserting a physical vessel into the image plane, she encourages her audience to comprehend that each dimension of the work has the capacity to hold meaning—literally and figuratively.

The third series is a group of twelve drawings based on Davis’ snapshots of clouds. Building on the cloud as a symbolic muse for choreography and composition, she considers the natural formation through the lens of quantum physics. As a billowing mass made up of atomic particles, a cloud shifts between states of being solid, liquid, and gas—an element that fluctuates between the micro and macro. Drawing from Rovelli’s writings on the relativity of time, Davis’ compositions encourage her audience to question systems of artistry, science, philosophy, history, race, and gender for which meaning is assigned, not inherent. Welcoming shifting observations and evolving thoughts, her text and image reject an explicit reading. 

For each work, Davis arranges the text in a new formation to highlight different passages, incising the sculptural passages into a polymer plate, then embossing them onto paper with an etching press. She scores each parchment with a grid - rendering the photograph section by section - using sharpened charcoal pencils for portrait works and powdered indigo pigments for cloud works. With an exacting and meticulous hand, she creates a surface that resembles an ancient rubbing, emphasising how light and dark shadows reveal - rather than conceal - essential ideas within her essay. Through the blurred focus of the body, the soft edges of the cloud, and the swelling surface of the vessel, Davis balances the rigid with the fluid; the frame and grid for each serve as structured systems wherein physical and meteorological bodies roam freely.


Kenturah Davis: Cloud press release