Emily Jo Wharry ’20 Photo courtesy of Kenturah Davis
Kenturah Davis '02

“Dark Illumination” features a body of work that examines the significance of shadows in our sensory experience.

Starting Feb. 9, OXY ARTS will showcase the work of Kenturah Davis ’02, the 2022-23 Wanlass Artist in Residence. The display marks the 10th year of the residency and the first OXY ARTS solo exhibition of an alum, as well as Davis’ own first solo institutional exhibition in Los Angeles.

In “Dark Illumination,” Davis combines drawing, photography, printmaking and sculpture to explore shadows and light, while also interweaving ideas rooted in philosophy, physics, literature and anthropology.

Kenturah Davis, In Praise of Shadows, 2019. Photo: Dawn Blackman
“The premise is thinking through this idea that shadows not only produce conditions that hide, or conceal, or feel mysterious, but they also produce conditions that reveal,” says Davis. “I've had this interest in disrupting or blurring these binary categories, like light and shadow, to think about how we draw conclusions."

Davis, who majored in art history and visual arts, often integrates text and portraiture to explore themes such as language and perception.

“I've been working with relief surfaces, pressing texts into paper, then doing rubbings that at once renders the figure and also highlights, or makes more visible, the text that's embedded in the paper,” she says. “For this show, I’m really excited to resolve something I've been trying to work on for the past few years.”

As part of her OXY ARTS residency, Davis also taught a fall course inspired by Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows.” 

“It's been a great experience developing coursework of my own, and then developing the show that extends from the class that I taught,” she says. “I’m excited about it because I felt some freedom in how to approach this show that I think is quite different from what I've done so far through more conventional commercial gallery exhibitions.”

Davis, who grew up in nearby Altadena, was often surrounded by Los Angeles' Black artists via her father, Keni Davis, a TV and film set painter. During her time at Oxy, she played volleyball, took printmaking classes with Professor Linda Lyke and honed her early interest in how language shapes lives.

After graduating, Davis balanced work, art, and a move to Accra, Ghana—a city she describes as a vibrant, vivid metropolis that felt like another home. She eventually returned to the United States to earn her MFA from Yale School of Art. Now, she divides her time between Highland Park and Accra.

Recently, her first permanent public art project, “Sonder,” opened at the Downtown Inglewood Metro station; a solo booth of her new works appeared at Frieze London 2022; and the Orange County Museum of Art featured her art as part of their “California Biennial 2022: Pacific Gold” exhibition. Her portrait of filmmaker Ava DuVernay was recently highlighted in the Smithsonian’s “Portrait of a Nation: 2022 Honorees.”

OXY ART’s year-long Wanlass Artist in Residence program is the only college residency in the country that invites artists to develop an original curriculum based on their practice and interests.

“This residency is the principal exhibition for our annual programming cycle at OXY ARTS, allowing the opportunity for our students and community to connect with groundbreaking and visionary artists,” says Meldia Yesayan, director of OXY ARTS. “It's truly inspiring to see an artist have the freedom to conceive, create and expand their practice in this way. Providing access and institutional resources to these L.A. based artists and allowing them the freedom to experiment is foundational to our mission at OXY ARTS.”

“Kenturah Davis: Dark Illumination” will be on view from Feb. 9 to April 29, 2023, with an opening-day reception at 6 p.m. and additional events throughout the spring.