Ralph Skunkie Davis: Sculpting towards Liberation

Drawing inspiration from the human body as a divinity and as a material, Ralph Skunkie Davis engages in an interdisciplinary practice that encompasses sculpting, writing, tattooing, and piercing. Their creations deliberately embrace morbidity and ugliness. The result is a captivating body of work which breaks conventional norms and forges fresh pathways for humanity. 

Chicago-based, Ralph’s diverse practice is intrinsically linked to contemporary society. They provoke contemplation about body perceptions, predetermined paths, and liberation from societal constructs. Pursuing avenues toward liberation, their works question how bodies are perceived, which tracks are laid out for them, and how to break free. Their trans identity profoundly influences their sculptural creations.

Overarching in Ralph’s work is a fascination for flesh and “queer filth”. Their performance and video work Reparenting Ritual reveals some of these elements. Over two months they cultivated a bacterial colony into a surface that could be treated as an interface in the same way as skin. As it grew, they marked its existence by tattooing it with an identical design to one on their own body.

Ralph’s explorations extend to the origins of and pivotal moments in queer history, encompassing topics like the Hanky code and the essay the essence of humanity, all rooted in love. Esteemed figures like Sarah Ahmed, Cassils, and Judith Butler, among others, shape and guide their work.

Path towards liberation

“There is a blueprint for everything,” Ralph explains. “How time works. How family works. How you support yourself. However, if you don’t fit in that system, how do you move through time and space, as nothing is mapped out?” Being guided by these theorists and creative minds points towards an alternate model of time, and suggests a precedent for queer survival. Ralph’s desire is to “celebrate a future in which bodies can be mismatched, fractured, swapped, and modified to rejoice in non-normativity.” It seems like they are well on their way to contributing to a new system of roads.

images by PILOTENKUECHE or supplied by artist

Ralph’s chosen family, though often geographically disparate, serves as their greatest inspiration and reason for persevering. In a deeper way, they find solace and grounding in their dreams, which provide them with profound insights and connections to their loved ones. These dreams also serve as a wellspring of ideas for their artwork, akin to a self-directed download of creativity. When they wake up with an idea for an art piece, they explain “It feels like I’m downloading from myself”.

Ralph’s influences

Their works often emerge from a combination of all these various influences. Exemplifying this is their sculpture I Almost Became an Angel featuring fleshy moth wings inspired by Audre Lorde’s essay Uses of The Erotic. When they explain and reveal the layers of this work, their power is revealed. This piece conveys the transformative potential within each individual and their relationship with their body and soul. 

Ralph Skunkie Davis is carving a distinctive place in the art world, skillfully shaping sculptures, tattoos, and more that challenge norms and pave the way for new expressions of non-normativity. Their thoughtfully crafted practice showcases a multitude of works, each demonstrative of their creative and talented hands.

 written by Anton Driesen

Keep up with Ralph on their website and instagram.

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