Arts feature: Kenya N. Davis: 'Body Eclectic'

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive

Starting Thursday, Nov. 16, Columbus art fans can see the King Arts Complex made up to resemble Kenya Davis' mother's house.

While Davis has only begun showing her work publicly in the past three years, she has been a practicing artist for the past 20 years, while also teaching art at Duxberry Park Arts Impact Elementary School. Growing up in the Hilltop, Davis, a third-generation graduate of West High School, was always encouraged by her mother, who provided a supportive environment, materials and supplies, plus generous wall space.

“My mom likes to tell a funny story. Probably when I was about 4, she had just purchased brand-new bed sheets for my older brother and older sister, and they had pictures of nursery rhymes on them,” Davis said in a recent phone interview. “I was so distraught that she didn't purchase any for me that I went and got a paint set and started painting on my sheets. That's when she knew that I was going to be an artist.”

“She really encouraged me during my childhood, always making sure I had art supplies and taking me to Saturday morning art classes at CCAD. She took me to an art class at Ohio State — it was supposed to be for adults but the teacher let me stay. We didn't know it was for adults,” Davis said, laughing at the memory. “She's still my number one fan, although I'd have to say my husband is right there, too. Right before you called, [my mom] called me to ask if there was anything she could do to help me get ready for [the exhibition].”

The exhibition is “Body Eclectic,” which runs through Dec. 30 at the King Arts Complex. The exhibition is part of the prize for being awarded a 2016 Arts Honor Award for emerging artists by the King Arts Complex. The awards are, in part, given in memory of Aminah Robinson, whom Davis called one of her earliest influences as an artist.

“Back in the '90s, she really was someone who inspired me,” Davis said. “I respected and loved her work, and I still do.”

“It's appropriate to honor an artist in the community who shares some of Aminah's ideas and techniques,” KAC Cultural Arts Director and “Body Eclectic” curator Lyn Logan-Grimes said. “Davis is very courageous. You could see that anything was a tool to create art with. And [Davis is] also a teacher, and Aminah never missed an opportunity to teach a lesson.”

“Body Eclectic” serves as both a retrospective and coming out of sorts, featuring both new work and pieces from Davis' 20-odd year art practice.

“There's a little bit of mixed media, a little bit of sculpture, there's some 2-D graphic design and some abstract and collage work,” Davis said. “My work kind of has two or three different veins that it could be categorized in. The portion of my work that has an African-American bent to it, that's consistently been something in my background, where I've always created towards that idea. But then my abstract pieces and some of my collage work, some of that [shows] newer techniques I've been exploring and is continually evolving.”

“I can't escape making work that speaks to being an African-American, but I also don't ever want to be pigeonholed into that one aspect of who I am,” Davis said. “I have done work that addressed my decision not to put any chemical products in my hair and just to wear it natural. There are two pieces in the show that incorporate old photographs — that sienna-type of look — of my mother's grandfather, and one with her grandmother, so it has that idea of ancestors. But I have another work called ‘No Place for Bees' that is an abstract piece that's symbolic of an abandoned bee colony. It's speaking to the failing bee population and how that can affect us.”

One untitled series of new work is a collection of dolls or figurines made from found materials, including wood blocks, clothespins, shells and feathers. Davis said these works are also inspired by Robinson.

“Aminah made those figurines and it inspired me to try it,” Davis said. “I enjoy figuring out how to get all the pieces to go together. I think they all have their own personalities. One reminds me of a grandmother, another of what I think of when I imagine a medicine man. I never know how they're going to turn out. They just evolve as I make them.”

Perhaps not that different from Davis' emerging art-making career.

King Arts Complex

Reception 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16

867 Mt. Vernon Ave., King-Lincoln