“The Stranger” by Damon Davis tells the story of a wanderer seeking his castle and queen.
Damon Davis is a post-disciplinary artist exploring identity, culture, and power, often through a surrealist lens. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Damon utilizes a variety of media such as film, sculpture, multi-media and more to illustrate how identity is formed by power and mythology. His most notable work, “Darker Gods”, navigates Afro-surrealist manifestations of black culture. Damon’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In 2018, Damon Davis participated in a month-long artist residency, the Indelibl Artist Residency, in Ghana. During his time there, Damon immersed himself in the community by learning, creating, and speaking with Ghanian artists and citizens. It was during this residency that Damon created “The Stranger”, a short film illustrating the artist’s experience in connecting to his place of origin.
“The Stranger” is an allegorical story following Damon, a black American, as he returns to West Africa. In this story, Davis’ quest is to find a castle and a queen that was shown to him during a dream. Throughout the 16 minute film, Damon meets a variety of characters that guide him through the land, aiding him in his quest. However, when he does finally find his castle and queen, things are not what he expects.
The film speaks to Damon’s relationship between the Diaspora and the continental African people, the generational effects of slavery, and the complexity that exists when returning to a place one has never been.
“When people are taken or kidnapped from a place, and they’re cut off from it, there’s a myth making process that happens when leaving that place” Damon tells us. “You’ve got to come up with new histories. Especially if you’ve been directly cut off from your history. Immigrants remember where they come from, they can trace back their history … that’s not something that people from the Diaspora can do.”
We asked Damon if there’s a pressure that artists face when creating work about ancestry or origin. “There’s always an unspoken duty that has been bestowed upon you without you asking for it” he tells us. “Sometimes I feel like, at least me, I’ve been trying to steer away from parts of us that I don’t overemphasize all the time but I’m trying to move past that and just tell complete human stories, because that’s the best thing we can do for each other. All people are good and bad. That’s the constant struggle of being a filmmaker or any kind of artist that’s specific to a community.”
Many filmmakers have begun to mint their work in the NFT space, with David Bianchi’s “Spinema” pieces being just some examples. Damon believes that NFTs offer the opportunity to empower artists through monetization. “It allows us a flexibility and a way to monetize, especially short films, because there’s no way to monetize short films” Damon explains. “Usually they’re proof of concept, they’re labours of love, but usually there ain’t a big market to sell them. It just elevates a short film to a level of artistic merit it deserves. I think it also empowers artists, directors, filmmakers, to just be in control of their content and monetization … It legitimizes short film as a piece of artwork the way a painting is.”