In the galleries: Exploring humanity, philanthropy

Stacey Davidson’s “Ore (Silver Anna),” polished aluminum sheet on panel, is on view at Winthrop University Galleries in Rock Hill through March 13.
Stacey Davidson’s “Ore (Silver Anna),” polished aluminum sheet on panel, is on view at Winthrop University Galleries in Rock Hill through March 13. WINTHROP UNIVERSITY GALLERIES

Small is the new big

Stacey Davidson’s paintings and sculptures go deep into the psyche to explore fundamental human issues.

Although the works in this show at Winthrop University Galleries span 15 years, they are unified by soft colors and presence of children and puppet-like dolls. However, they are not soothing, nor are they suitable for young viewers.

In “Under” and “Painting with 7 Dolls” (both from the late 1990s), Fellini-esque dolls are suspended from the ceiling; on the wall behind them are paintings in which they are also depicted.

Displayed next to one another, these two works form a small community of strangeness. Davidson, who teaches at Winthrop, says these works are, in part, about personal histories and childhood scars.

In “Under,” the painting shows an ethereal young woman surrounded by dolls. Of the four actual dolls suspended in front of the painting, one is a grotesque, yelling figure with two faces.

In “Painting with 7 Dolls,” the suspended dolls face away from each other, as if alienated and wandering around. But as depicted in the painting, they are engaged with one another – talking, kissing or dancing.

The paintings do not have distinct backgrounds; there is no evidence of rooms or scenery. The action unfolds in an inner, psychological realm.

Davidson’s more recent work grapples with issues of race and the legacy of slavery.

In several pieces, black and white dolls are back-to-back with arms intertwined, indicating a mixture of struggle, interdependence and the inability to acknowledge each other.

“Chandelier,” which hangs from the center of the gallery, is a tangle of dolls, doll heads, vegetation and battery-operated candlesticks. Tying the figures together is a cotton rope painted gold, symbolizing the plantation economy. One doll seems to be plotting a quiet escape. A small, sad cotton branch lies on the ground.

Like most of Davidson’s work, “Chandelier” is not analytical; although there is much research behind the work, the final product seethes with pure feeling and vulnerability.

Winthrop University Galleries, Rock Hill; www.winthrop.edu/galleries; 803-323-2493; through March 13.

‘Giving Back’

The exhibition “Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited” is based on the book “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists” by author Valaida Fullwood and photographer Charles W. Thomas Jr., both of Charlotte.

The show explores African-American giving traditions – customs that are often not considered philanthropy because they do not involve displays of wealth. It includes photographic prints on metal, iPad kiosks, video and interactive digital apps.

The show will travel to numerous venues including Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, Denver; Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Houston; and Ashe Cultural Arts Center, New Orleans.

James B. Duke Memorial Library, Johnson C. Smith University; thesoulofphilanthropy.com; library@jcsu.edu; through April 26.