Conceptual artist Davida Ingram works in mediums that range from Facebook to drones. She once posted an ad in Craig’s List offering to cook white men their favorite meals, to spark discussion about race and gender. She’s hired a hypnotist to help her understand why she stopped crying.
Ingram’s art explores desire, space, time and memory. She’s particularly interested in questioning 21st century black female subjectivity. “I’m interested in ideas and storytelling,” she said in an email, in response to a series of questions from Crosscut. “I am interested in vehicles of human experience, especially the stories we tell ourselves to heal and survive.”
The following is an edited version of the complete, email conversation.
What are the most effective artistic mediums for you to get across a message and why?
We have “froo-froo” words like social practice and conceptual art. I use them because I do not know if I can get away with saying that I see myself as high priestess, good witch, conjure woman. But in the simple sense I make the ritual of life stay pregnant with multiple meanings in my work. I show collapsing realities and possibilities for transcendence that are partially aborted. I’m more into the art of asking a vexing or perplexing question. After all, like the viewer, I am something divine caught in a very temporal body that has social meanings that make me vulnerable to hurt and pain and also joy and wonder.
Why am I here? And what does my existence mean? I am most interested in being a medium — someone who speaks from the space between two worlds.
I’m an artist philosopher. I worry at times that I am too cerebral. I’d float off to the ether if I did not have people who brought me back down to earth. … I also feel like my collaborations and community projects make me come alive.
My homeboy Inye is an amazing videographer. We’ve grown close over the last years as he helped me with projects. I’ll call him up with some crazy idea and he will be like, “Yo, that’s crazy. You should totally do it.” I love thinking about dreams with other dreamers. Some folks work in the 3rd dimension or 2nd dimension (if you are racist you are stuck in 1-dimensional view. That sucks. For everybody). My medium of choice feels like the 5th dimension (which I am aware sounds hella pretentious and too “woo”). So if I have to be more specific, I’m interested in the spiritual work of connecting ordinary and extraordinary time, and the seam where they meet.
What does it mean to you to be a woman-of-color artist?
Thanks for sending these questions. I got a bit annoyed when I read this question. Then I had to get curious about why that particular line of inquiry, where my race seems to be the antecedent of my craft, gets on my nerves. I’m an artist who is a black queer woman. Black womanhood is a muse of mine. So why do I have this ontological sore spot?
I think interrogations can be annoying.
That defensive streak I have comes out in my work. When I got tired of how academia and the canon erased artists who looked like me, I decided to make a project where I made white men their favorite meals. I wanted a disarming way to ask about race and gender without having to say so. It’s like the obverse of folks who say “welfare queen” when they mean not wanting black families in the social contract. My avatar Fanon talked back in ways that I sometimes wished I did in real life (and often times do).
The writer Ralph Ellison would talk about “change the joke and slip the yoke.” He will always be hip, to me.
I don’t make art about race to make race as such my main preoccupation. I am preoccupied with being free. Race for sure is a generative topic, but also gets boring because the realities of racism are boring. Death is more boring than life. The scholar Ruthie Gilmore has explained that racism leaves black people much closer to death.
Most stories affixed to my black body have nothing to do with me. I am much more interested in liberating my body from problematic gazes and fucked meanings. That means I do not want people to see me in a fixed light or in the fun house mirrors that racist society offers up. I want something more limpid, fluid and caressing to happen when we look at people who are “raced,” because it often means our dimensionality, specificity are erased. This is especially so for black women.
I want to get at that without destroying the profound gift of belonging to a community. My politics are collective rather than individual. The poet Elizabeth Alexander has an essay where she talks about reading Ebony and Jet magazines, as a young black woman and realizing that she belongs to a people. I will not give up my communities and the benefit of belonging to them as the tax of fighting white supremacy.
How do you personally engage with other artists/ community?
Community is really important to me. All artists need a community of some sort. It comes with the inevitable solitude of getting your work done. There is no way around holing up and getting your ideas hashed out. Artists have a life of the heart and mind going. At the same time, it’s also a myth that artists are always alone.
When we were working on “I Wish Mother Would,” a community installation that was my conceptual project, it would not have worked without the people who gave that project life. Zorn B Taylor helped me take gorgeous photos because I wanted the performance to live beyond performance documentation. Lara Davis and Ari Lindholm did these really beautiful oral histories. Later Chieko Phillips was able to arrange to have the project re-installed at NAAM that helped shape into something more refined. My work is about shared vision.
I was recently helping my friend Christopher Shaw hang his first solo show “Mending” at a gallery called Martyr Sauce. Chris is a ceramicist and a structural engineer. I loved watching him problem-solve. It was a linear and organic process. I love that combination. I also loved being with a group of brown artists who were making this very complex installation come together. Chris’s been part of a circle of incredibly talented artists and creatives who have helped me realize projects. We have community, but also communion — a very beautiful way of being together and making our space gracious, loving. Dope projects take lots of hands who are willing to help get this idea birthed into the world. …
Most of my friends are artists who demystify the creative process. They also live good lives where they share their time and gifts. I see that the most in Barbara Earl Thomas and Karen Toering. Barbara is an incredible writer, painter and print maker. Karen says she is not an artist, and I make it my business never to believe her. I think an artist is someone who ensures an idea can exist. Karen manifests in ways that blow me away when it comes to media justice and social justice.
Is there anyone who has been particularly influential on you?
Family. I come from a family that has broken language down to a potent wizardry. We are diabolically funny. It helps us weather tragedies.
Funny you should ask this question, too. I’ve recently be in touch with the artist Martha Rosler because of the recent showings of her work in Seattle. She has been a major artistic influence because she taught me that an artist can be an executor of social truths. I find her rigor and questioning really powerful. I feel the same way about David Hammons. I’m majorly indebted to his work because he does linguistics in ways that pay homage to the men who played cards in my garage and the women who scratched the dandruff out my head with rattail combs.
I am in love with any artist who keeps the ways of the “folk” alive. This is why I keep promising myself, if I do a PhD it will be on Toni Morrison and her work with Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones. They were on next-level shit.
How does where you were raised inspire your artistic vision?
This question presumes a lot. Not that it should not (I am a fan of presumption if it saves time and no one gets hurt). This feels like a question about culture. I do believe we cannot escape the writing on the wall of the house you grew up in, which is to say you can never leave home. You can never stay home either. The world finds its way inside you. I believe James Baldwin first pointed that out to me.
I am from a working-class family from the South Side of Chicago. If you make me mad enough you will get cursed out the way I learned was possible to vent spleen. I also joke that I am a Negress who speaks fluent Caucasian. I am a queer black girl who was raised by a devoutly Christian mother. That difference made me feel like traditions, while important, can sideline important human truths. When my mother said my God does not believe in “that kind of a lifestyle” when I told her about one of my girlfriends, I responded, “maybe my God loves hoes.” I guess what I really mean is that I raised myself to belong to myself, and think you should too. I am from a particular place and I have chosen to be the person I am because I am me.
What do you hope people will gain by attending the Curated Arts Salon?
That magical reality of enjoying the creativity of artists who show up brown without it being a big thing or the only noticed — though in a racist society perhaps racinated existence will always be a big thing.
What is in store for the future?
I have a July show at Bridge Productions. I’m excited about what Sharon Arnold is doing there. I’ve also been nominated as a Citizen Artist for the Kennedy Center. I’m looking forward to seeing how this invitation comes together.
This Q&A replaces an earlier story that did not reflect the feelings or intent of the subject. Apologies from the editors.
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