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Essay: St. Louis Is Undergoing an Artistic Renaissance

Filmmaker and artist Damon Davis takes us inside a social and creative awakening in Missouri.

Damon Davis

This article originally appeared on Creators.

As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first-person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Damon Davis is a St. Louis, MO based multi-disciplinary artist who calls his practice part therapy, part social commentary.

I am maker of things, a lot of different things: music, movies, paintings, writings. I explore my experiences and those of the people around me through story and symbolism. I was born and raised in East St. Louis and have lived in the St. Louis area my entire life. I think what makes St. Louis unique is that it's blend of a small town and a big city, which creates a unique climate for creativity. My work is informed by my lived experience, an experience rooted in the Black community, while simultaneously feeling like an outsider from every community. I have always felt like I fell into a grey area of experiences that were both universal and unique to my trajectory in life; I guess my work is a constant exploration of that.

My work addresses many themes, but over the last few years I have really been dissecting the ideas of the power, capitalism, and how societal structures affect us as individuals, internally and externally. Moving forward, I have been meditating on work that is more personal, more about my own internal struggles and the link between myself and the larger universe and people with shared experiences. I have been making work about emotions ranging from self love to depression, and how my experience as a Black man in America informs the lens through which I view myself and the world around me. Moving forward, it is important to me to create new narratives about Blackness and what it can be, to broaden the box until there is none, and all you see, hear, and feel is humanity in my work, but never having to remove myself (my Black identity) from the work. The same way a white artist just tells stories and somehow they are "universal" with no one but white people present, I think it is time for the idea of what is "universal" to be broadened.

I feel like I exist in a glorious and extraordinary place in time and I am fortunate enough to participate in a sort of neo-renaissance for artists in the city. I don't think that the events of Ferguson can be to blame for this creative climate, but I do think with out the attention that came from the events, the folks that were already making work around the subject of blackness wouldn't have the platform they do today. But this is nothing new to people were I am from and to America in general, Black people, Black artists in particular have been making work around this subject since time and memorial, the world just has a short memory.

I am watching a social, spiritual and creative awakening that is paramount, especially among some of the artists of color I have the privilege to know and collaborate with. Artists like Mvstermind, Bloom, 18andCounting and my FarFetched (music collective) family are transcending creative boundaries musically. Artists like Tef Poe and Prospect are leading the charge of a different socio-political conscience with their music, a knowledge and aggression that is necessary in times like these. Artist of other media like Basil Kincad, Christopher Burch, Work/Play, Kat Simmons, Audrey Simes and countless others are constantly inspiring me and challenging the way I think about art and practice.

Over the last few years, St. Louis was the epicenter of a re-awaking for Black America in a fight for human rights and redefining who we are to ourselves and to the world. The artist is the speaker and scribe of the people and their hearts, and St. Louis sits on the heart chakra of the country. We allow the human spirit to imagine what the species could be, and we push it to be what it needs to be. I am amazed and honored to work and live in St. Louis right now, and I think we are creating some of the most exciting and necessary work in the world today. I am in a place, personally, where I feel we should be challenging old systems and norms, the institutions, the museums, the venue owners, the politicians, the system itself. My goal is to be a better person, my art is a way to work through my flaws and the flaws of the world I live in. Challenging my comfort is how I grow, and growing hurts. That's how we all grow, and I hope that my work makes everything grow, no matter how much it hurts.

To learn more about Damon Davis, visit his website.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States, starting with Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Utah, and Florida. To learn more, click here.