Two separate migration patterns brought Americans from the south and mid-west to California in the early 1900s: The Great Migration and the Dust Bowl. One group fled persecution under racist Jim Crow laws, while the other fled droughts exacerbated by over farming. The economic and social impacts of these migrations not only shaped the state of California, but they continue to drive the state today.
As California endures the ongoing effects of a sustained drought and wildfires while the Eastern Seaboard, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands continue to deal with increasingly severe and frequent hurricanes and floods, these events create ripe conditions for another large-scale migration. All indications point to this happening underfoot right now.
Karon Davis’ “Muddy Waters” at Wilding Cran Gallery brings the effects of climate change and migration to the surface in a series of plaster sculptures that are rendered to human scale. Their placement throughout the gallery provides ample space that allows visitors to walk among works, placing the viewer in the middle of an exodus.
Standing in the back of the gallery space, a woman with the poised carriage of a dancer stands in waist high water with a jug of water on her head. The contents of the water she wades in is perilous, yet the water she carries is sacred. Nearby, a father with a slight smile carries his daughter on his back, while across from him an older man pulls a rope attached to a row-boat whose occupants include a forlorn woman in curlers and a frightened child who is struggling to make sense of the devastation and crushing helplessness that surrounds her. The woman carries a string of rosary beads, while the young child softly cradles a precious doll.
What and who Davis’ subjects carry in their arms become focal points in the work that coax the viewer to think about what we would carry if we were placed in a similar predicament. What or who do we cherish most?
Last year Davis could attest to the emotional toll these circumstances take. In December, the artist experienced her own harrowing brush with disaster during the Thomas fire that surrounded Ojai and threatened the home she shared with her late husband, Noah Davis.
For me personally, the difficult choices of what to choose, how to respond, when to flee, and where to go, are all too familiar for those of us who live north of Los Angeles where wildfires are frequent. I’ve had to prepare to evacuate at least 3 times.
The day I drove home after seeing this show, I saw plumes of smoke from the freeway, the smoke getting closer and closer as I approached home. Thousands of acres of land had caught fire just north of where I live. I’ve resolved myself to accept that these fleeting brushes with danger have become our “new normal”, but they are painful reminders that there is nothing “normal” about any of this.
The United Nations recently issued an environmental impact report that makes some dire predictions about the irreversible effects of global climate change, revealing that its catastrophic impact is not somewhere in the distant future, it’s knocking on our door right now.
The report “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population”, reports Coral Davenport in the New York Times.
While the report delves into the economic “costs” of climate change, what about the social costs? Specifically, how will populations of people adapt and change to meet these critical circumstances?
A recent Guardian article citing a University of Chicago study suggests that “by 2065, southern states are expected to lose 8% of their US population share, while the north-east will increase by 9%. A recent study forecast that the population in the western half of the US will increase by more than 10%over the next 50 years due to climate migration, largely from the south and midwest.
Facing the front of the gallery, Davis’ group of sculptures resemble a flock of migratory birds in a “V” formation. Standing at the apex of the group, a gentleman with partially plastered dreadlocks is carrying a staff leading the others toward the sunny windows at the front of the gallery-while picking up the pieces of the lives they’ve left behind, they’re charting a new path forward- a path that thousands of catastrophe victims are deciding to embark upon right now.
“We carry our homes within us which enables us to fly”~ John Cage