Art: Desiree Thomas, Joy Davis, and Jamila Brown at Goodyear Arts
Selections from the work of Desiree Thomas, Joy Davis, and Jamila Brown explore the complexities, joy, and injustices of self and womanhood in modern America.
Now tucked into the center of Camp North End, Goodyear Arts has been nurturing visual and conceptual artists in Charlotte since 2015. The sprawling warehouse has been converted into several large spaces including a gallery, a performance area, and studios where 40 artists are currently in residence. As board member Krizia Torres told me, “Goodyear is a thriving multidisciplinary artist collective. It is truly artist-run and its success shows just how important it is for artists to build community.”
Goodyear’s gallery space is open to the public Friday evenings from 6 PM to 9 PM. The gallery is free to visit, but donations make a big impact on the longevity of organizations like these. If you’re visiting Camp North End on a Friday night, popping in to see what’s on display is a wonderful way to make your evening that much richer. Right now, three residents’ work is on display. Selections from the work of Desiree Thomas, Joy Davis, and Jamila Brown explore the complexities, joy, and injustices of self and womanhood in modern America.
Desiree Thomas’s series of ten paintings of sodas, chips, and preserved foods in their packaging has a sense of humor. “Rise and Brine” is a jar of pickle chips with a gherkin leaning against the glass; “Chronicles of the Sammich” is a roast beef sandwich on a baguette; “I Dreamt of Sausage” is a tin of Armour Vienna sausages, held delicately aloft on a palm, and framed by fingers in a hand model’s pose. The packaged and preserved foods are bound to recall moments from our lives. “From Cornmeal and Scrapple,” depicting the rectangular paper package of Neese’s liver pudding on a picnic blanket, brings me back to my own father over the stove, frying scrapple in the pan for breakfast.
Eight of these pieces are grouped together. The food products are reductions of their ingredient, their lineage, or their original context. They are commodities, mass-marketed to the lower- and middle-class, wrapped in rote branding, immediate triggers for the appetite. Thomas’s elevated presentation of quick eats is certain to elicit chuckles.
The series is thrown into tumult by its lone portrait, “How To Be Eaten.” A female figure is dressed in a skimpy cow print dress, strappy acrylic platform heels, and a headband with horns and floppy cow ears. She poses on her hands and knees in a pasture, feet raised slightly, and raw T-bone steaks litter the grass around her. She gazes at the viewer with a languid stare. Her self is blocked by signals of modern sexuality: her vulnerable pose, the high slit in her dress, and the mundanity of heels and cow print. Among its companion pieces, “How To Be Eaten” is joined on the wall only by “Chronicles of the Sammich,” the roast beef next to its source – removing all doubt as to the metaphor. At first glance, the series is a familiar challenge to the objectification of the sexual woman and a reminder that we all do her a disservice.
But there is a twist. The bright blue sky in “How To Be Eaten” is the same in the rest of the series. The lavender fingernails against the grass are the same as those on the posed hands presenting the Vienna sausages, Doritos, and Aunt Rosie’s Loganberry. It is the figure in the pasture who presents us with the challenge of understanding where she belongs in this context. How does she direct her agency in a world where she is so devalued? For which debasing circumstances must she settle to succeed, find partnership, or be taken seriously? How can she find power in a world where she has so little to begin with? Suddenly, “to be eaten” means not just to be consumed, but also to be interpreted, to be invited, to be loved. We see the subject as she reckons with how to claim as much value as she can by relinquishing all of it up front. The irony is grim. This series declares that the woman in the pasture sees the full picture. Looking again, her languid stare contains multitudes.
Joy Davis’s collaborative multimedia installation “Ontogeny of a Mother, becoming a vessel” presents a complex meditation on metamorphosis of the self. The title fits. Ontogenesis is the history of the growth of a being, and it can describe growth that is physical, behavioral, or emotional.
Video projection from behind the viewer lands on a large three-panel screen. The black and white images show a pregnant woman standing, moving, and kneeling in power, a slow dance of exultation. The projection fills the screens. Smaller images of the same figure are overlaid in different regions across the piece, phasing in and out slowly with new postures and movements.
Mounted on the left panel and hanging suspended several feet in front of the screens are twenty-one white plaster casts of parts of a pregnant body. Some are large portions, like the stomach, breasts, and thigh together in one piece. Most are scattered legs, arms, breasts, pregnant belly each by themselves in a jumble across the left wall, grouped more densely as they near the edge. At this leftmost edge of the screen, a single cast of pregnant belly and thighs sits atop a draped pedestal. All the casts seem to both emerge from and pour into the open top of this piece.
A narrative is presented as the viewer contemplates this seated part-person giving birth to other part-people, including new pregnant bodies. It seems like a story of the legacy and honor of motherhood, of a place in the history of life, but it is more complicated. As the projection of the dancing mother blurs and distorts over the disembodied plaster limbs and torsos, there is conflict at play about the interpretation of self.
With this installation, Davis invites us not only into the reflections of a pregnant mother in power and peace, but also into the conflict of understanding one’s own body and self in the context of motherhood. This figure is thinking of each part she has, each part she is making, and each part she is changing into. She considers where she stands in the human history of mothers, with all its glory and anonymity. She both loses and finds her totality as she makes new life.
Three series on display by Jamila Brown present other interpretations of self in context.
“Inner/weaving, Inter/space,” a series of seven small paper photograph collages, depicts Black and Brown subjects in groups, each engaged in moments of kinetic stillness, togetherness, and trial. These are moments of transitional drama, from protest, to prayer, to waiting in line. The images are each interrupted by surfaces, patterns, and environments literally woven into them. We see the surface of water, a woven rug with elaborate geometric design, a golden ornamented neck piece, each a piece of collective history both abstract and definite. The placement of the weave is different in each piece. The water runs under the waists of boys waiting outside. The ornamental necklace occupies a space where buildings used to stand in a destroyed city. In “Bonded” and “Glitch Gaze,” abstract digital images obscure the faces of subjects in the photographs. In all of the pieces, we squint to understand each image as they are covered and uncovered again. This interference in moments of human stress broadcasts the ongoing dissociation in the subjects at their center. Whether they are endeavoring, reeling, or simply waiting, these thoughts occupy their minds as they cope with realities too difficult to bear.
Two more series from Brown, a group of five entitled “For They Will Be Watching” and a triptych curated beside it, tell a more direct story. All eight digital screen prints show cosmic, godlike Black women in different facets of self. Nearly every characterization has superimpositions of cosmos, language, or humanity over their bodies. In “earth.body === ‘the world,’” an unmistakable Lilith holds a silver apple, a snake coiled around her right ankle. She is covered in waves, stars, earth, and circuitry, and utters a microchip holding the body of a man. He is beamed to a satellite dish above a mother holding her new baby, flanked by two more women, a doctor and a doula figure. Another iteration of the satellite dish hovers above a younger woman’s head in “embryo.body === ‘the womb.’” She sits facing a barren, tilted landscape, and looks back at the viewer as if interrupted in her meditation. In “Black Matter,” a resigned face is shrouded in the darkness of the universe, looking into the viewer; in “Woven Warrior,” a woman cloaked in language looks out from an oblong helmet woven of the same checkered pattern in the series of collages on the opposite wall. Both her face and the words scattered across her garb are not easy to read. Finally, in “Origin 1” and “Origin 2,” we see a serene woman, the same image twice, as she gazes down. She is floating in positive and negative photos of space respectively. Her hair is pulled back tight and wrapped in a conical bun, and in it floats the satellite.
The women are sending and receiving messages in a language we cannot interpret. They are a pantheon of archetypical protectors and avatars: innocence, power, pain, presentation, all called to hold the same impossible knowledge along with the weight of their individual roles. At the center of the “For They Will Be Watching” series, “Double Consciousness” breaks from the blended imagery on the subjects. Instead, a headshot of a young Black woman recalling 80s shopping mall portraiture covers an image of the Earth. The floating portrait shows two faces on the same head, a gemini depiction sharing the same middle eye. The planet behind her is engulfed in a branching lightning strike, and above it floats a satellite dish.
This show is up until Friday, December 2. In a text, Krizia Torres let me know that there is always more to see at Goodyear Arts. “Don’t miss the ongoing Avant Series, an NEA-funded effort to bring extraordinary avant garde acts to Charlotte,” she reminded me. “Be on the lookout for this year’s Nutrient Rich! It’s a fun annual showcase & art sale featuring hundreds of small works by collective artists. It’s a great opportunity to support the artists.” But don’t forget, you can stop by any weekend – the folks at Goodyear will always be happy to show you around.
Exhibits by Goodyear Arts’ Fall 2022 Residents Desiree Thomas, Joy Davis, and Jamila Brown
Where: Goodyear Arts
301 Camp Road, #200
Charlotte, NC 28206
Per the Gallery: “Goodyear Arts is located within the 76-acre campus of Camp North End, near the intersection of Keswick Ave and Camp Road and alongside Free Range Brewing. Free and ample parking is available throughout the site.”
When: Fridays, 6 PM to 9 PM, through December 2.
Cost: Free, donation recommended.
Y’all Weekly is a reader-supported publication. Please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.