The Experience of Black Ballerinas Comes to Life in Sculptures by Karon Davis
The artistic practice of Karon Davis has been heavily influenced by a childhood in dance, having been raised by performer parents, Nancy Bruner, who retired from the business to raise her children, and Ben Vereen, who was known for roles like one in Bob Fosse’s Pippin. These influences take center stage in Davis’s exhibition “Beauty Must Suffer” at Salon 94 in New York City. Open until December 23, the show carries viewers on the journey of Black dancers in a concept titled for words spoken by the artist’s mother.
The art of ballet and the graceful beauty it presents is a world loaded with an often impossible quest for physical perfection and a painstaking process of training to go along with it. The experience of the Black ballerina is even more specific, as the career’s rigorous physical demands and elite selection process have rendered minority demographics severely underrepresented. This push and pull between beauty and suffering, elegance and discomfort, posed through the lens of the Black ballerina, comes together in a narrative that is at once emotive and thought-provoking, and uncomplicatedly pragmatic—the scenes Davis has so carefully composed are representative of reality.
Karon Davis’s Figures are Cast from Real People
In one area, a studio setting with mirrors hosts depictions of smaller, youthful bodies in first position at the barre, aptly titled with names like Gian, June, and Ella. A more mature figure in another area (Pancaking) sits with their warmup-clad legs splayed on the floor, using a sponge to dab rich brown pigment onto the pearly pink ballet shoes in an effort to make the shoes match their own shade of nude.
Nearby, a dancer adorned in feathers ices her knee, while in another area, a solo artist bows low with flowers in hand, positioned in front of a mountainous pile of pointe shoes, most of which are pink, scattered with a few brown pairs. Other featured works include a cast of paired dancers in various stances with titles referencing the characters of Echo and Narcissus, a further play on variations of the nude shoe, framed in gold and entitled Cotton Toes, and an almost-architectural column constructed of gradient pink tutus.