Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Anna Martine Whitehead reviews Kenturah Davis: Narratives and Meditations at Papillion in Los Angeles.
As an artist playing with the limits of realism, Kenturah Davis points to the construction and materiality of the portrait, while also emphasizing the internal and social nature of language in her solo show Narratives and Meditations at Papillion in Los Angeles.
Through an impressive mastery of her subjects’ image, Davis creates portraits of brown-skinned, kinky-haired, vocal subjects. Installed in a grid-like pattern on the wall, the series Narratives comprises two graphite murals, each formed by numerous sheets of archival paper. Within these two murals, four portraits anoint the gallery lounge. The faces emerge from lines of Davis’ poetry, scrawled in densely layered cursive script that reads: “There’s something about dignity/And something about shame/There’s something about honesty/And something about blame…” Covering each sheet, the text creates a wide range of value gradation, punctuated with highlights of negative space. In the next room,nine framed portraits (graphite, 42 x 38 in. each) from the series Meditations command the viewer’s gaze. Similar to those in the Narrative series, these images are also constructed from layers of text; however, they read as mantras, or vocalizations of the self. Whether it’s Davis’ own writing, scripture, song lyrics, or a quote from Audre Lorde, a sentiment of personal resilience is conveyed. The text constitutes each subject, but it also activates a dialogue between subjects, as well as the subjects and viewers, that works to intercept culturally constructed notions of otherness made apparent by their deftly captured features.