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An Interview with Candice Davis by Sophia Abrams

How do objects fit together in our personal history? Walking into Candice Davis’ exhibition, I Was Born With a Silver Spoon in Your Mouth, Davis excavates time and place to explore her ancestral heritage. Enveloping this conceptual exhibition are the themes of blood and soil. Entering the space, gallery-goers are met with fern planted in ancestral cemetery soil samples, jars of ancestral soil, a child’s bodice dyed with Davis’ blood, and clay pottery serving ware. Further, into the space, a 12-minute video of Davis in Texas intimately gives people a sensory connection to her work. In one scene, she digs a hole for a plant in the middle of two graves. In another, she struggles with the coarseness of the sediment. With the camera perched in the grass and the stirrings of nature persistently ensuring that their presence is auditorily noted, viewers see the personal perseverance and literal struggle of Candice bringing her work to fruition.

“I've been working on my personal family history and genealogy for about six years now. Right when I graduated from college, I was interested in exploring visual ways to represent the kind of forced sacrifice and struggle that my ancestors had,” Davis said.

When Davis embarked on researching her ancestral history and reading records, one question emerged: how to navigate reading historical records that often omitted Black people and their respective contributions. Thus, the exhibition is grounded in Davis’ work serving to humanize her ancestors’ contributions through the physicality of objects and their present-day persistence existing as a conduit of the truth of her ancestors’ forced contribution to society.

“When I'm looking through research and seeing photos of my ancestors, being able to see myself in them in a physical way. It's been really beautiful and interesting. So I think that being able to see those parallels between yourself and your ancestors can be helpful and not feeling like your experience is so unique that you're alone. I'm impressed with this idea of fictive kinship, the idea that there is a relationship between people that are not necessarily related, which is important, especially within the Black community. And I'm really excited about the way that we can relate to one another through experiences even though we aren’t blood-related, there are lots of things that create a family in the Black community,” Davis said.

Originally from San Antonio, Texas, and a 2018 MCAD graduate, Davis now resides in Minneapolis. In conjunction with her work, Davis is an antique and vintage collector who curates Artifactx Vintage, an online vintage shop with over 10,000 followers. Thus, integral to Davis’ work is textiles.

Centered in the gallery, a pre-Civil War cotton dress hangs from the wall. Somberly, the disposition of the dress is fatigued, with the bottom of the dress drenched in blood drawn from Davis. Aptly titled “Deaccessionings No.3,” this dress is one of the many personal artifacts a part of Davis’ re-centering of her family history. Visually, the dress represents the violent history behind what Davis considers to be “innocuous objects.”

“Interacting with antique and vintage clothing allowed me to start thinking about the contexts in which they were made. I'm always really interested in clothing and fashion from historical areas, just because I'm thinking about the context that my ancestors were existing in those areas. And the way that in some contexts, their clothing wasn't a choice for them. And sometimes it was, and it was limited by their social status or socio-economic relationship to the society. It's a privilege and an honor to just explore and have fun with clothing and the way that I do. But I also wanted to acknowledge the histories that come with some of the textiles that I encounter. And also sometimes try to bring it into the context of today. And the fact that there's still basically slavery that happens in the textile industry.”

“When it comes to the textile industry, during the pre-Civil War period, it's super violent to me; the textile industry now is super violent. And using my blood to dye these objects allows people to see this visual representation of the sacrifice my ancestors had to make for the textile industry. And specifically, I'm thinking of my blood like some sort of amalgamation of all of my ancestors’ blood in a very poetic way,” Davis remarked.

Interested in the way art can allow people to interact with changing ideas and theories on a physical level, Davis’ work intends to engage with people on a personal level to confront the violent histories we have.

Her latest exhibition at SooVAC is a part of her evolution as an artist. In a past performance piece, Fix, Davis asked the primarily white audience to straighten her hair and examine the psychological effects of perpetuating white beauty standards. Her 2018 MCAD thesis, Targets, Weapons, utilized objects of personal and regional significance to a family living in Texas since being brought to America and how they represent transgenerational trauma.

“I'm always going to continue to work with this idea of how can I bring a physicality or create uncomfortability around some of these subjects that people are afraid to approach me like a white beauty standard, make people interact with the physical, on a physical level with what kind of violent actions have to take place in order for people to uphold the white beauty standard. Or just having people come in and have this visceral reaction to seeing blood stain effect,” Davis said.

When asked who inspires her work, Davis quickly cites Fred Wilson and his use of archival objects to examine history. She also references San Antonio-based artist Dario Robleto, who emphasizes how the specific things that artists incorporate in their art can ascribe different meanings to their art.

A running theme of the exhibition is capitalism.

“It's hard not to link my existence back to capitalism, just because I'm here in America, because capitalism and the system that brought me here and my ancestors here as slaves. I was born because, at some point, people were interested in propagating their slaves to make more slaves. And it's hard to unlink myself from that. I see the value in the movement towards decolonization. But in a lot of ways, I don't know what my existence is outside of a colonial or capitalist context. And I'm interested in acknowledging the ways that that impacts my life and how I can start to work toward something better for future generations. Despite that context, how I can evolve from that context,” Davis said.

Just as the show is a process of fluidity, Davis sees this work continuing. An ever-evolving sacred documentation of her ancestors, I Was Born with A Silver Spoon in Your Mouth reclaims Davis’ ancestors’ legacies and simultaneously gives present-day clarity to Davis, her family, and now the community at large to understand the ever-connectedness of the past and present through everyday objects.

This exhibition runs until Sunday, September 5th.

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