Whitehot Magazine

Taking a Knee with Willis “Bing” Davis at the Contemporary Dayton

Willis “Bing” Davis, Colin Kaepernick-George Floyd Knee Cushion #2, 2021, mixed media. Collection of Amelia Robinson and Anthony Shoemaker. Courtesy the Contemporary Dayton.

Willis "Bing" DavisKneel

Contemporary Dayton

November 5 through January 14, 2022

By JOHN DRURY, February 2022

At a time in his life when octogenarian artist Willis “Bing” Davis expected – had even planned – to be slowing down, he found himself instead dialing up the volume on his creative production, in fulfillment a commission for the Contemporary Dayton. Spurred to action by the offer of an exhibition for the newly revamped gallery space in his hometown and infuriated by the murder of George Floyd - Davis found in yet another flagrant affront racial equality a task not to be ignored. Long the King of all that is the visual arts in Dayton, Ohio - Bing Davis was the city’s obvious choice in addressing this flagrant injustice humanity; he the right guy for the job at hand, his interactive Kneelers summoning participation.

When praying, or showing submission, one kneels. In a display of reverence, one kneels. The acknowledgement power - when not knocking one to one’s knees - found instead in protesting footballer Colin Kaepernick’s mirroring gesture, a creative inspiration the culmination a lengthy lifetime’s witnessed inequity; here, the artist’s resulting talisman replacing a call for the easier (if rash) eye-for-an-eye violent reciprocation – tit for tat. Employing a practice of the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his works visually echoing the memory board (lukasa) of the Luba people - a mnemonic device where history is recounted in a bid to solve current problems - Mr. Davis reminds us that when rising from the reverential knee (and in turn, his interactive works), one feels taller…prouder…cleansed.      

Willis “Bing” Davis, Colin Kaepernick-George Floyd Knee Cushion, 2021, mixed media. Courtesy the Contemporary Dayton.

And where better than the doltish and violent game of football to comparatively highlight the hypocrisy of supremacy? In stark contrast the counterfeit twenty-dollar bill that George Floyd attempted to spend, Americans will legally wager more than $20 billion dollars on the sport in 2022; the chance of loss embraced in the thrill of gambling. Or is it simply mounting profits that we are truly most concerned about, black bodies dispensable – death simply the cost of expansion? With the unbridled adoption of the once illegal activity, wagers could reach $180 Billion by 2025, according to an analyst with ARK Investment Management; a stain on the fabric of society, increasingly torn and tattered, by an ever-ongoing and desperate effort to retain a waning white supremacy - the kneeling Kaepernick simply ruffling the feathers of smooth financial transaction the true offense? Drawing attention to the joke that is not-for-profit status, revealing also the taxpayer dollars constructing stadiums funneled to portions of cities often least equal in education, employment and housing, Davis “bookmarks” the playbook of a disruptive historical time rivaling that of the civil rights movement of the 1960s; an inequity further punctuated in the cost of 30-second commercials during the game north of $6 Million each, in 2022. 

Or has the “excused” rate of offensive behavior simply risen from the Staten Island dollar’s loose cigarette to a Minneapolis twenty-spot? Mr. Davis has long championed issues of social justice and his exhibition Kneel cements his stature as one of the most important makers of our time. In a bid for ownership the discussion, Willis “Bing” Davis employs the game of football as conceptual launching pad his poignant creative endeavor. It makes perfect sense why the footballs that Davis invites us to kneel upon - those offered in place of neck - are salvaged from the wastebasket at Dayton’s traditionally black, inner city high school. Dayton, like so many other cities yet in America, remains severely segregated. Bing’s is a concept rooted in invitation, finding comfort and cause instead in the well-worn and familiar (if painful) past; the beaten and worn leather of past games preferred in contrast the pungent smell of new car, hide interior my own son finds so powerfully nauseating. 

Fear too has a distinct smell. It is metallic, the scent of hard-pumping blood the dominant feature in full-bodies breath. And yet it is as marking the accosted moment, as otherworldly as it is unique. It is particular to the individual from whom it emanates, in time of crisis; that human child, that son or daughter, that parent or sibling perhaps yours in shuffling departure this mortal coil. WM

John Drury

John Drury is a multi-media artist, published author, independent curator and instructor. Drury holds a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design (1983) and a Master of Fine Art Degree in sculpture (1985; including a minor in painting), from Ohio State University. John is the father of two teenagers, living in New York City since 1989 and has received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award for his work in sculpture.

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