Artist Spotlight: Becci Davis

Roots United.

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Photo Credit: Danielle Klebes

Rebecca ‘Becci’ Davis, an interdisciplinary artist originally from Columbus, Georgia now residing in Wakefield, Rhode Island, has established herself as an artist who has created work she believes should be received universally, pieces that on some level could be understood by everyone. While attending Lesley University College of Art and Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts pursuing her MFA, she began thinking about her practices and goals she set in place, creating and talking about artwork that was very personal to her was a way to reach the masses. “It was something that happened very naturally, not on purpose…I was still making the same kind of work but I wanted to put more personal narratives in my work.”  I think it should go without saying, when an artist creates a body of work it’s developed with a personalized aspect coming from within, drawing you into their personal narrative to better understand their work and who they are as an individual artist.

As cosmic energies and stars would begin to align, around Thanksgiving 2015 Becci received a promotional email from Ancestry.com for a free trial to discover more of her familial heritage, ‘I thought to myself, oh this will be fun but I probably won’t find anything.’ Like many African-Americans who are descendants of slavery here in the United States, records of family history are usually few and far between, but with adamant research and “completely obsessing,” Becci stopped making her other work and began to focus more of the efforts on her family history. “As the days and weeks passed, I realized I can’t continue making the work I was making and I found myself thinking about it [family history] all the time because there was so much. And I thought what I was doing outside of my practice at the time was so much more rich and complex and it was more ME, it was like…not discovering myself because I’ve always known these stories but realizing that my story had value to someone other than me.”

In 2017, Becci created a video, “Isaiah’s Inventory (Fog Follows Rains)”, one of the pieces she submitted that resulted in the 2018 RISCA Fellowship in New Genres. This piece details the inventory and appraisement of the estate of Isaiah Parker from Harris County, Georgia. Isaiah Parker was the slave owner of Becci’s ancestors. This video was a depiction of how the value of life could be broken down to a simple dollar amount. Having value in one’s family history can come with great pride and reverence. However, as Becci recites the name, race, and monetary value of each slave on the Parker Plantation, it is a feeling of worthlessness. Keeping true to the times, as the video progresses, take notice of the objects used in this piece such as the fountain pen with black ink on cotton rag paper, the unwritten names of the slaves along with their prices is very telling of the erasure and disregard of human life that can be so easily purchased and then forgotten about like an inanimate object.

Going forward, Becci continued her work drawing on themes of American-Black culture, crafting ideas and choosing different mediums to get her narrative across in pieces like ‘Collard Archive of Modern History’, the process of creating ‘life-like’ collard greens by casting handmade paper into molds and using library catalog cards under the subject heading of ‘modern history’ as pulp. A staple vegetable used in soul-food/southern cuisine, collard greens have a cultural connection with Black Americans. Becci Davis has what she calls a complicated relationship with the food, and the greens have been the source of rich culture and significance to her work.  Through her art, Becci finds ways to bring forth both cultural histories and significance by dispelling the notion that Black History is separate from the American History narrative: “because Black history is American history – it’s our shared history, it’s not separate from US history. It needs to be one people, I think that the idea we have two separate histories, we are two separate people and worlds is a lie.” 

Collard Archive of Modern History

Collard Archive of Modern History

In addition to being the recipient of the 2018 RISCA Fellowship, Becci is also the 2018 Creative Fellow at the Providence Public Library, where her work centered around the exhibition program & series, Hair Brained.  This series collection and interactive performances, which is being held at the Providence Public Library from March 1st – June 30th, focused on hairstyles throughout history and the ways in which hair defines and reflects culture, self-identity, agency, and politics.  The interactive performance piece, ‘Beacon Beauty Shop’ created by Becci was “‘something that sort of honored the idea of beauty shop culture and African-American culture but also served as a bridge or way of access in to Black hair for people who didn’t understand.” Walking into a beauty salon is an experience that we’ve all had at some point in our lives, “this isn’t something that divides us, this is something that we have in common.” The real cross-cultural experience came from her salon menu options from a wash-n-wrap, press-n-curl, and a relaxer/perm where some of the “clients” weren’t familiar with some of the hair techniques. In the African-American community a perm and relaxer are one and the same, a process to permanently straighten/relax your roots to become very straight. “Culturally our process is different – although I grew up saying “perm”, I made sure to put it as “relaxer” because culturally there’s a difference. When white people think “perm”, its turning already straight hair to curly and when we say “perm” we are PERMANENTLY straightening the roots.”  The goal of this interactive piece was to demystify Black hair and Black beauty shop culture, the creation of ‘Beacon Beauty Shop’ was the first step in trying to make that happen. “I think people came in expecting me to play in their hair, which is fine but when they realized there is this moment that we shared together listening to other people’s stories was something I got a lot out of – I enjoyed that exchange.” 

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Rebecca ‘Becci’ Davis, an artist who honors personal experience, oral narratives and events from past, present and future. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton