Dinner without an agenda with Alison Davis
A Reflection by Floor Grootenhuis
Oct 3 2016
16th of April 2016 at Mi Estrella Restaurante at 88-19 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, NY
My Stars – Mi Estrella – a décor of bright Latino colors and yellow stars blended with the crabs in a tank and money cats saluting tirelessly. It was a disarming stage in Jackson Heights, Queens for our dinner with Allison Davis. I walked in to the empty space with glass tabletops and bright lights and recognized our table in the middle by the diversity of people that had gathered. I was nervous and unsure how to place myself.
Alison had asked us; how does the way the world perceives your physical self show up in your work or proess? In my artistic practice I am investigating the role of my body. Is it my body that proves my existence? How I can work with my body and naturally yet unusually connect with the public.
As we exchanged crisscross introductions of our backgrounds I felt self-conscious of my body and identity. Several of us spoke about queer and transgender identities as part of their direct experience of their bodies. Others about being women and black and how your art practice is viewed by the outside as being ‘black’ art or ‘feminist’ art. That the work is identified by others before we even label it ourselves. As if there has to be a label.
I nervously shared that I identify as Kenyan and have had to prove that many a time when asked by an Indonesian cab driver – dari mana (where are you from)? With disbelief he would normally answer, ‘but there are only black people in Africa!’ I would provocatively reply well my skin is white but my blood is black. That usually settled the matter for that moment.
At Alison’s table I felt like ‘that’ person – the white women of privilege where growing up in Kenya seemed like something I should probably not speak about – as it was on the ‘wrong’ side of the street.
I owned this unease and stood in the space of my vulnerability owning me in as much as could. In embracing my discomfort I received a precious gift from the extraordinary artists around the table. As they shared their worlds and art practices they held a mirror in front of me that was partly translucent and allowed me to see what they see, transforming my understanding of my body and identity, experiencing its fluidity.
Alison created a space where our differences became connective agents. There was a disarming beauty in sharing food together in a restaurant that held two continents – I saw how the table became a vehicle for an honest investigation into body, perception and place.
Since I moved to New York my understanding of art, race, gender and sexuality has grown to a deep level – where I am constantly questioning where I belong and where I fit. That night I realized I did not need to fit, I just needed to be me, open, direct, honest and willing to hear what others had to share. It was real! My blindness was reflected back to me and I wanted to see it.
Many of us took the same subway home, and if felt that the time spent together eating and sharing we gained an empowered new relationship to our selves – body & mind and spirit – in the simple act being receptive while sharing food and time.
Image: Erin Wurm, One Minute Sculpture