Critics’ Picks

Damien Davis, Late-Night Line-Up, 2023, laser-cut acrylic, stainless steel hardware, 17 x 23 x 2".

Damien Davis, Late-Night Line-Up, 2023, laser-cut acrylic, stainless steel hardware, 17 x 23 x 2".

Newark

Damien Davis

Project For Empty Space
800 Broad Street
February 4–April 8, 2023

At the entrance to Damien Davis’s exhibition “SEARCHING,” visitors are provided a flashlight and led into a darkened gallery. The windows and walls are blacked out, yet the room is illuminated by the soft glow of ultraviolet light. Beckoning to the viewer are thirteen neon-colored, wall-mounted sculptures, crafted from pieces of laser-cut acrylic, which allude to the complexities and anxieties—filtered through a generous dose of humor and beauty—of being Black and queer in America today. 

On the Grind (all works 2023), features the profiles of two Black men. One of them, his body a stylized red blob with dragon-like spines, gazes intently, even desirously, into the back of the other’s head (shooting from the tip of the crimson figure’s tiny penis is a large drop of ejaculate). Hovering above this comically erotic scene is a gigantic blue checkmark, weirdly branding this tableau as “Twitter verified.” In 24 Hour Hold, a pair of clocks operate in unison as they float against a backdrop of colorful African patterns—an homage to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), 1987–90. At the bottom of the composition are a pair of disembodied hoodies with their arms raised in surrender: a reference to the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and the countless other Black Americans who have been brutalized and murdered by law enforcement—those “protectors” who often face zero repercussions for their actions.

Combing the room with a flashlight, one comes to the horrific realization that this action mimics one of the most dangerous and traumatizing experiences a person of color can be subjected to in the United States: an unwarranted police search. Shine your light on Davis’s Late-Night Line-Up and three brown faces are hanging upside-down, their bodies molded into an abstract form resembling a single handcuff. Behind these figures, dazzling African patterns in neon yellow, hot pink, and fluorescent green remind us that cultural pride is a vital and powerful beacon, which can irradiate even the darkest of spaces.