In conversation with the National Exhibition 9 Artist-in-Residence Danny Davis about his work for the upcoming Ninth National Exhibition
By Kevanté A. C. Cash
The Ninth National Exhibition (NE9), under the patronage of the Hon. Lanisha Rolle, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, is scheduled to open on Thursday, December 13th, 2018 at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) beginning at 6:00 pm. The NAGB will support the work of 38 artists under its theme “The Fruit and The Seed”. One of the artists being Danny Davis, the NE9 artist-in-residence which is supported in partnership with The Current Gallery and Art Studios. Davis is a lecturer at the University of The Bahamas, a chemist turn woodworker, an unorthodox match to say the least. He has lived between Nassau and Freeport for most of his creative career and has been able to draw inspiration for his work from both islands. I sat with him to engage in a rather exciting discourse about his interpretation of NE9’s theme, and how it will be shown through his piece.
Kevanté Cash: So, Danny, tell me, why the fascination with wood, and why do you think it is a valuable tool to use to create your art?
Danny Davis: For me, wood has always allowed me to do things that – I can pick up a piece of wood and visualise what it is going to be and make it happen, whether it takes an hour, 10 hours or even a week. However, having that piece of wood that looks like it has been washed up on the shore, and being able to turn it into a vase, box or something unimaginable – to me, is just amazing. The fulfilment from it never grows old, and I have always been working with wood from as early as the BJC’s (Bahamas Junior Certificate Examinations). So, whether it is making a key holder for my mother, a met holder or fixing a door, I was always making something out of wood. I have never been inspired to paint a picture or pick up charcoal to draw; it was always wood.
KC: Would you say you have been inspired by other Bahamian artists like an Antonius Roberts who is well known for his usage of wood to construct his pieces?
DD: Absolutely, inspired and intrigued. We do two different types of work, but I have an appreciation for things made of wood. So, when I look at his stuff at the airport or wherever else, I celebrate it. I am also intrigued by the bowls that Robert Hardy makes. Having been in The Current for the last month has been a new awakening for me. Before this, I did my thing, but now the influences of the other artists-in-residence has affected me. Though they are painters, I am observing how they create, and it is changing the way I look at a piece of wood and approach my work.
KC: How did you feel when you were selected as one of the artists to showcase works within this specific exhibition?
DD: I felt honoured. I have always done either commissioned work or solo so that I would not have had this public interaction before. This was a validation for me as an artist to say - ‘Hey, people appreciate what you are doing!’ Then it went from exciting too – ‘Oh, this can be scary because now, you have to deliver.’ So, it has been a roller coaster ride of emotions – you are on it and fighting at some points, laughing at some points, screaming at others, and then you get off it, and you are like ‘Wow, that was cool. I want to do it again!’ I am not at the part where I want to do it again quite yet, but I am sure when my installation is completed for next week, I'll be there.
KC: Sounds like it has been an exciting time for you in self-discovery. How did you interpret the theme of this particular National Exhibition?
DD: It was interesting because most of my work has been commissioned, I have only ever been given the space to work within the boundaries and parameters of the client and have just a little room to be completely creative. So, all of a sudden, a proposal to the NE9 allowed me to be freer. I did not have the restraints of someone wanting my work to be a certain size or height. I was free, and for me, this was wild. That also took a little bit of getting used to just as I was developing the proposal. I was thinking to myself that I wanted to do something that was tied to colonialism because I have ‘a thing’ about it and this gave me the space, for the first time in an artistic fashion, to express those sentiments. So, my proposal was for a box that shows how from pre-1973 to today, not much has changed regarding decolonisation of this space that we call The Bahamas. The colonisers have changed a bit, but we are still in this state. My piece explores that, and this was an opportunity for me to explore that freely.
KC: What can attendees expect to see regarding installation?
DD: It is going to be on a plinth, so people are going to be able to walk around it. It is going to be standing up. It is not a very large piece, but in its most practical sense, it is a tea box holding tea bags. If you think about us in The Bahamas, we have got this thing with teas. We have our bush tea, but we also have teas that we import, and when you think about tea, how much more British can you get?
So, I took this whole notion of tea boxes, combined it with what I do with wood to create this whole expression of what you see right now concerning colonisation. In addition to the teas, whether it be a local bush tea or an imported flavour, I am also looking at the wood the box is constructed from. This particular piece is made up of a combination of palette wood. Some of it, imported – to represent the part of colonialism where something is coming in, and the other parts of it are made up of mahogany wood from a tree branch found during Hurricane Matthew. Out of that branch, I have made the island of New Providence that will be enclosed in another box made of the palette wood. So, I played around with all of those concepts and developed what I think is an interesting story.
KC: I am excited that you are getting this opportunity to express and be your most authentic creative self. Would you consider taking up more opportunities like this in the future?
DD: Absolutely. This first month of being my most authentic creative self-has been liberating. I cannot see me not doing something like this again. They have started something here. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no putting him back in.
Davis’s work along with many other Bahamian artists will be on display for all to view, interpret and engage in a discourse surrounding themes of colonialism, gender inequality, toxic masculinity, spiritual and religious traditions and histories and much more, this coming Thursday, December 13, 2018, at 6:00 pm.
The opening of the ninth National Exhibition “The Fruit and the Seed” is free and open to the public, and it is promised to be an auspicious occasion.