C. Davida Ingram
2014 Genius Award Nominee in Art
ONCE PLACED AN AD THAT SAID:
"Black woman willing to make your favorite meal. You bring the ingredients. I prepare. Come hungry."
Like a mother, but you wouldn't know it.
C. Davida Ingram—Davida to most—believes that social justice done right adds beauty to the world. She's an artist with ugly muses: white supremacy, misogyny, HIV and AIDS. She started out as just a South Side Chicago kid talented at drawing. When her mother blocked her original plan to skip college and apprentice with a tattoo artist, the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago not only approved her last-minute application but gave her a scholarship. She stopped painting and drawing, and started performing, after she got a harsh critique—probably actually the kind you give to something you take seriously—from the great painter Kerry James Marshall. She rarely makes two-dimensional work now, but her purely visual sense remains ingenious. A lovely gilded-paper toilet-seat cover called Democracy of Assholes comes to mind. She showed it at 'Mo-Wave in 2013. In stereoTYPE, a group show of black women artists she curated at LxWxH, she showed a stunning 2014 video, The Elephant in the Room, deftly mixing text, audio of a black comedian, and YouTube footage of the escape and release of two captive female elephants.
Her earliest performances were ritual ("I had clothespins on my back and a mask on and I licked salt and molasses off the floor of a church"), but what came next was laser-focused. Procrastinating writing a thesis on representations of the down-low for her master's at Bard College in New York, she placed Craigslist ads offering to be an unpaid amateur dom for men who couldn't afford a pro. She worked with three men—nothing sexual, "I just boss you around"—over the course of the performance. It led to Come Hungry, also an ad: "Black woman willing to make your favorite meal. You bring the ingredients. I prepare. Come hungry." She performed it first in 2005, featuring exclusively white male diners, and then at Seattle's Bridge Motel in 2006.
In 2011, Ingram and Natasha Marin created Seattle People of Color Salon, a regular gathering that keeps the experiences of local POC artists central. Her 2012 project Detour is a blog-and-cell-phone-guided walking tour (686-8566) of oral and written histories detailing the evaporating history of what's now Amazon's neighborhood. This is deeply community-driven art. No gallery's going to represent it; no dealer's going to sell it. Its contents are complex, but she has one basic ideal: a world that's good for more people.