Kenturah Davis

Portraits drawn from the written word

Kenturah Davis was born in California in 1984. She now works between Los Angeles and Accra, Ghana.

Did you know?

Kenturah Davis’ mother was a quiltmaker, and taught her how to sew at a very young age. Her father was a set painter for TV and film. Their work became her initial introduction to the idea of being an artist.


While studying at Yale, Davis took a class on the invention of writing. She realised that weaving came first, and could also be used to encode information. This has informed her work ever since.

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Practice overview

Kenturah Davis creates intimate portraits of Black America. She works in a range of mediums: drawing, painting, sculpture and performance. The history of writing has influenced Davis' work. She questions how we assign meaning to words, and the relation between the written and drawn line. She cites Egyptian and Mesopotamian art as inspirations, because of their rich symbolism. To explore how language informs identity, she plays with different ways of incorporating text. One method is to overlap handwritten words in carbon pencil until they form a picture. Another is to deboss Japanese kozo paper with text, and draw over the top. She also dips rubber letter stamps in oil paint to create faces out of repeated type. In recent years she has used more colour, incorporating Shifu weavings and fugitive inks. She organises these elements into a grid structure, or panels in handmade frames.

Davis depicts people in motion, often working from her own blurred photographs of family and friends. In doing so, she rejects the idea that Black identity is easy to pin down, embracing multiplicity. She considers this crucial to her work – "there is never one singular way of visualising, seeing, or engaging with someone". Her layered portraits reveal themselves in a gradual way – their intricacy most visible when close-up. As a result, she encourages a slower way of looking. She wants people to spend time with her portraits, like getting to know someone new.

“I often think about the nature of our encounters with other people as layered experiences, so my work should be the same way”Kenturah Davis