No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
On view at Jeffrey Deitch, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished," Karon Davis's first solo show in New York City, sets forth a sculptural tableaux that recreates the poignant, darkly iconic image of Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panthers, tied up and gagged in a Chicago courtroom. This scene appears alongside 50 sculpted bags of groceries: a metaphor for the Black Panthers' community programs, depicted alongside a reminder of the violent government oppression they faced.
Davis based her re-staging of the trial on the constructed images that have circulated in our collective cultural memory: the artists' sketches and actor portrayals that have stood in for the hearing in the absence of any photographic documentation. In rendering the figures of the case in plaster, Davis takes part in a kind of mummifying process that she sees as preserving and holding Black histories together. Her sculptures deconstruct familiar methods of plaster casting—Davis casts from friends, family, and her own body, alternately fusing and breaking down their forms to create her distinctive figures.
The installation represents Seale as restrained but resistant in the court as well as showing him standing tall among the grocery bags—a moment that commemorates a Black Panther community survival conference and the distribution of 6,700 bags of groceries. The bags, which Davis conceptualizes as a "garden of golden fruit," overflow with gilded items. Her method of storytelling creates a powerful scene, evoking the contrast between the national persecution of the Panthers and their undeniable contributions to the community.
Karon Davis, Bobby Seale and The People’s Free Food Program, 2020-2021. Plaster bandages, plaster, chicken wire, glass eyes, steel, acrylic resin, gold paint; dimensions of Bobby Seale figure: 71 x 33 x 24 inches; installation dimensions variable.