‘Whose Streets?’ director Damon Davis curates ‘Black August’ resistance art at L.A. upstart


August is a month whose days have been marked by milestones of Black struggle.

In August of 1791 a group of enslaved laborers in Haiti launched a rebellion against French colonial authorities that led to independence. Exactly 40 years later, Nat Turner led a rebellion of enslaved workers in Virginia — a rebellion that today bears his name. August of 1965 was when the Los Angeles Police Department pulled over Marquette Frye in Watts, a traffic stop that led to an uprising that lasted six days. It was another day in August of 1971, when George Jackson, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison and author of the influential autobiography and manifesto “Soledad Brother,” was killed in a prison melee he was said to have started after overtaking guards with a smuggled gun, an action for which some say was he was framed.

Black August, as this growing commemoration of events is called (also the title of a 2007 film about Jackson), is something that Crenshaw Dairy Mart, a new art space that occupies an old dairy mart in Inglewood, did not want to go unacknowledged.

For their new virtual show, which bears “Black August” as its title, the neighborhood arts space is collaborating with artist and filmmaker Damon Davis, co-director with Sabaah Folayan of the 2017 documentary, “Whose Streets?”, about the Ferguson uprisings of 2014 — which also took place in August.

Davis has selected three artists to stage takeovers of Crenshaw Dairy Mart’s Instagram account (@crenshawdairymart) from Friday to Sunday, and through that period he will be hosting a series of related dialogues about art and resistance and streaming “Whose Streets?” for a special 72-hour release.

Works by the selected artists — Jen Everett, Adrian Octavius Walker and Lola Ogbara — will also be viewable on the Crenshaw Dairy Mart website.

“Black August” is the latest offering from Crenshaw Dairy Mart, a new arts nonprofit that in its short life span has opened, closed and pivoted to digital.

Founded by artists and former USC classmates Noé Olivas, Alexandre Dorriz and Patrisse Cullors (who is also a co-founder of Black Lives Matter), the aim of this community arts space is to bring together people and work at the intersection of art and activism.

“A gallery,” says Cullors, “for the people, by the people.”

Patrisse Cullors takes a Zoom call at her dining room table.

Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Crenshaw Dairy Mart, at her home in June.

(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

Their first opening was held on Feb. 29 with a group exhibition titled “Yes on R,” which explores the grassroots activism behind Measure R, the county ballot initiative that called for increased oversight of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department — one that was overwhelmingly approved by voters. (Cullors has long been active in justice reform causes.)

That opening, which coincided with the For Freedoms Congress in Los Angeles, an arts and activism initiative led, in part, by New York artist Hank Willis Thomas, featured artists and DJs and drew hundreds of people, says Cullors.

“That was the last group setting I was in,” she recalls. “It was powerful, really powerful.”

Not three weeks later, the safer-at-home orders landed in California and Crenshaw Dairy Mart was forced to close its physical space. But Cullors and her collaborators lost no time in moving their efforts to the digital arena.

“The amazing thing about the organizers leading this institution,” says Cullors, “is that we just shifted.”

In April, as the pandemic’s economic effects began to ripple through the city, the art space launched a relief competition — asking artists to submit works in support of the concept “Care Not Cages.” Three artists were picked to receive relief funds of between $500 and $1,500.

In response to the open call, more than half a dozen incarcerated artists also submitted works. Crenshaw Dairy Mart supported them too: with small awards of $250 a piece, payable to their families or their books.

That effort was followed by a show of works by incarcerated artists on galleryplatform.la, an online gallery space shared by 81 L.A. galleries. Of that effort (which is still active), “100% of the funds are going to the artists,” says Cullors.

“Black August” emerged as a result of Cullors’ personal connection to Davis.

She first met the St. Louis filmmaker in 2014, after she helped coordinate a Freedom Ride of more than 600 Los Angeles artists and activists to help support the uprisings in Ferguson. Since then, the two have found common ground in their art and their causes.

“Damon is not just a filmmaker,” he is also an artist,” says Cullors. “So we said, let’s have him curate a show.”

Damon Davis with his collaborators on "Whose Streets?" — Sabbah Folayan, Kayla Reed, Tef Poe — at the Sundance Film Festival

Damon Davis, right, with “Whose Streets?” collaborators Sabbah Folayan, Kayla Reed and Tef Poe at Sundance in 2017.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The artist Instagram takeovers begin Friday, but Cullors and Davis will kick things off with a special preview talk held on Instagram Live on Thursday afternoon. Artist conversations will follow on the morning of each subsequent day.

“Yes on R,” in the meantime, remains fully installed at Crenshaw Dairy Mart’s space. It is available for viewing by appointment.


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