Davis, a founding member of the homocore movement who named herself after activist Angela Davis, has showcased her self-proclaimed “multiracial, maxi-gendered” mixed-media pieces at venues across the world since the late 1970s. In 1991, Davis brought her singular style of art to the first international queer zine convention SPEW at Chicago’s Randolph Street Gallery.
Following remarks by Society of Contemporary Art President David Egeland and Art Institute of Chicago Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow Solveig Nelson, Davis played a 15-minute audio recording of eclectic music/spoken word in German that she created and a slide show of her own visage into 1970s Black power images before she emerged onstage with a corded phone handset to her ear and a shopping bag decorated with some of her favorite photos.
In lieu of using modern technology, Davis’ spoken-word chronicling of her life was written on paper, with photos of African-American figures Octavia Butler, Zora Neale Hurston and Ethel Waters printed on the back.
Speaking about her childhood in Los Angeles, Davis said she grew up in an all-female household with a mother who was “the leader of a group of multi-racial women with weapons fighting to establish a feminist state.”
In terms of institutions, Davis said they change people not the other way around.
Davis said it is a miracle that she never learned how to drive which is unusual, especially due to where she grew up. She added that she has no desire to ever own a car because it emits fossil fuels.
“For over a decade, I have lived in the beautiful but bleak Berlin, Germany where almost everyone rides bicycles and takes public transportation,” said Davis.
Davis talked about her artistic endeavors in Berlin, including her many collaborators. She also named a number of people who have influenced her work, such Adrienne Rich and June Jordan.
During the Q&A, Davis was asked how to dismantle systems of oppression and she said the key is to be vocal and belligerent so people listen. She said young people should demand that older folks step aside so things change for the better. Davis also called on attendees to actually write and send letters via the post office.
A dinner gathering took place at Bad Hunter in the West Loop immediately following Davis’ performance.
The Society for Contemporary Art presented the event with Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams serving as co-sponsors.
An exhibition of her work”Vaginal Davis: The White to Be Angry,” co-curated by Nelson and Art Institute of Chicago Modern and Contemporary Art Curator Hendrik Folkertsis on display at the Art Institute through April 26.
See VaginalDavis.com and ARTIC.edu/exhibitions/9441/vaginal-davis-the-white-to-be-angry to purchase tickets.
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