DAVION ALSTON: PHOTOGRAPHER AND AWARD-WINNING VISUAL ARTIST

BY ADINAWA ADJAGBODJOU

I would love for you to start by telling us who davion alston is, what you care about, and who you are.

My name is Davion Allston. I am a visual artist based in Atlanta, Georgia, I’ve been here for six or seven years now. A lot of my focus, the themes of my work, not only necessarily deal with identity, but the negotiation of identity, the histories that relate to those kinds of trivial pursuits and then also understanding at a macro level how does this relate to Atlanta? Like, how does this displacement of identity relate to the displacement of blackness that is within Atlanta. Because as a result of development, people are constantly being displaced more outwardly. So I critically relate myself to my work to relate to these all-encompassing themes.

So because you deal with identity so much in your work, I wanted to know if you could speak to some of your own identities and how they motivate your work?

So, I grew up in the South, very rural south Georgia in this town called Darien, Georgia. I grew up in a military family that believed strongly in religion. Like African Methodist, Episcopal church, but that religion being sold by a very dominating, very white Jesus, and there were power dynamics there.

So there’s this generational effect that happens because it’s so ground zero to the relationship of slavery and the transport of when there was docking on the coast of Georgia. So much generational gap because of that slavery. And then the question of what informed slavery. It wasn’t just race. It was religious class power. So I think about like those secondary things within my work. And I also think to some degree of the reason why it is important to think about the more in-depth parts of your identity, because for me, I bring up my family because I’m doing a lot of returning home. And that kind of work during this isolation is very beautiful; to take the time during isolation, to critically reflect and see like what it is that I should have picked up during this time.

Like, it should have been a hobby, some sort of rigor in a discipline, or like some sort of collective understanding of who I am. So, I was adopted and I learned that at a young age and began seeking questions that couldn’t be answered because a signature was in place.

So I relate this displacement of this adoption of my identity, to the displacement of African heritage and how it was transported along the Atlantic. So it made me realize that there was more depth to this pursuit of self. I’m in a black, African Methodist Episcopal family, but I am Hawaiian and Filipino, and I’m also like black. I bring these things up to say we all collectively come from an ancestral trauma that we can not like always fully identify. All we can do is remember the memory and the history of it.

So I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW HOW YOU BRiNG SOME OF THE THEMES IN YOUR WORK TO LIFE IN YOUR PERSONAL WORLD?

Yeah, I think there’s a lot to be able to talk about within Atlanta when you’re in a space for so long. As black people, outside of the south, when we go to other places, it’s really rare to go into a space and it just be all black people. And so I think it’s very important with how much that has happened in the state of Georgia, from slave transit, to making Savannah the Capitol, then burning it down, then transiting it up to Atlanta and then burning it down again…all the way to what’s going on now. And with the constant trauma, it didn’t give a lot of our grandparents enough time or great great-grandparents enough time to actually mentally deal with the things that happened.

What I’m interested in is the fact that there’s something so important that is so right in front of our face in the city of Atlanta that isn’t touched on and it’s the fact that without public transit you keep Blackness in this stagnant space. So, my form of activism is not to have a car only to use public transit. And what this pandemic showed is the ridiculousness of the flaws of the public transit, how it actually doesn’t cater to a viable means of transit, but actually keeps people disproportionately separated out. And what does that say when you are keeping a system of transportation that was already historically known for keeping people separated? Like what does that say? Like as a structure of a city and what are we building on top of?

So I do a lot of work where I’ll be on an advisory board or a counselor panel and they’ll ask me like where to put public art or how important something is. Because I invested that a lot of my past five to six years to being a citizen of the space to see how it flows to then see how to be activists within it for the betterment of it because people need simple modes of transportation to be able to get to work.

SO, HAVING EXPERIENCED ATLANTA IN THE SUMMER OF 2020 WHEN THERE WAS SO MUCH PAIN AND OUTRAGE BEING EXPRESSED, I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO HAVE BEEN HERE FOR IT ALL?

So the thing is, I was here during the summer when that happened and at first I was so afraid. Like at first I was like, “Okay, the kids are starting to get really, really upset.” And a lot of people think I’m younger than what I am 28. That’s not to say I’m not youthful. But I have been here through when Trayvon Martin was killed and we were doing protests. I’ve been there like the time before that, like all these other times. I’ve been in Atlanta for enough time to see the waves of transition happen, and to see something change the kids.

They want the fire because they want immediacy. So the fact that they took it to that level, I was like, okay, burn the car, burn it. I will work in my lane to make sure I get money to the bail funds for you. Call me if you need out.

But I was so happy to see it. At this point, after that car fire, I was like, dang, it’s really like the world, the universe is calling me to come out and start making work to these things or come out of my studio so I can do this thing. Because it’s like, my work is a response too. So I made this studio work based off of being in isolation, out of the desire to gather during the isolation. And seeing these people go on I-85 and I-75 South out of the desire to be collective in this change was beautiful to see.

But I had to learn my lane because I’m such a thoughtful voice when it comes to what’s happening right now. And like being in the age of this time I’m also learning I have to be very thoughtful of my presence because I then start to be formed into a symbol, a face. That’s the issue that’s down here; they love martyrism. I’m not trying to be a Malcolm X, okay. I’m not trying to do any of that, but that’s what happens. So I know my lane and it’s definitely like chess or checkers so I have to be thoughtful.

Can you tell us more about what the journey of building community has been like for you And if you feel like you’ve found one?

That is a beautiful question. We all go through things to learn who we are. And the one thing I know for a fact that I learned about myself is that damn, at one point in my childhood, I was really hurt. Because hurt people, hurt people. So through a lot of my undergrad, I was always so focused the rigor on getting my job done, then and done really well to the point that l don’t pay attention to the other needs of anybody else. So with all this passion and these thoughts, I really is subjected myself to sometimes not having social connectivity.

And as you learn, as you get older, the one thing that I learned is I do have forms of community, but I have multiple forms because I learned that I’m a person of the people. And so it’s like, I try my hardest to be as guarded spiritually as I can but then be for the people as well. But it is hard at times for me to be able to carry the loads of everybody.

How I see it is we are all a community. We’re all together, we’re all in this. We definitely see what it is in the world that’s going on. The thing is not to subject that thing and then keep sub categorizing it into constant other things because we get further away from the bigger goal, because then we start to pin each other against like people in the same group. And I’ve seen it then in a lot of ways. Like a lot of people subject me to the queer and trans community, which I find beautiful because I can speak to it, but then I also know I’ve had my inflictions with it as well, because like I said, hurt people hurt people.

What I’ve learned from that is there is a sense of collectivity; it’s just a matter of how do we define it? Is it individual? Is it collective thought? And what is everyone’s end goal? We also need to like learn not to get community mixed up with the word ego. Because our ego is our best selves to us, but we gotta know when our ego shows itself, when it presents, you have to know when to peel it back to them, so it can work in service to you.

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