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Jym Davis

Review: Startling “Shame Faces” exhibit inspired by deadly and contemporary sins

Shame Faces, an installation by Reinhardt University associate professor of art Jym Davis that has been extended by Day & Night Projects through December 18, illustrates perfectly what this artist-run exhibition space means by its call for proposals for 2022-23 (through December 31). It asks for “your most far-out, rigorous, experimental proposals . . . What’s a crazy idea that your current gallery won’t show? What’s the art world missing?” (Details of this, and of Davis’ show, are available at on their website.)

Davis’ papier-mâché and cloth masks are based on the medieval shame mask (Schandmaske) imposed on miscreants for usually minor offenses against the community such as gossip, gluttony or lying. Davis reinterprets this for contemporary offenses that may not qualify as criminal activity but do harm to fellow citizens, such as “Greed (environmental destruction)” or “Greed (material wealth).”  Davis’ message seems to be that the perpetrators of such things deserve shaming, if nothing else.

Day & Night Projects
“Lust” is one of the masks illustrating the seven deadly sins.

Davis writes in his statement regarding the Shame Faces: False Idols series: “My masks are created to look beautiful, illuminated with bold designs and striking colors, even as they incorporate hidden pattern images such as satellite footprints of U.S. prisons and border detention centers.”

These latter images are also presented as abstractions on wood panels with titles clearly identifying the “Otero County Detention New Mexico” or “FCI McKean Penn,” although the latter requires deciphering as meaning Federal Correctional Institution, McKean, Pennsylvania.

The masks are accompanied by photographs of the masks being worn by models standing in front of the large “PaintRag Flag.” This hangs on the wall flanked by some of the masks, emphasizing Davis’ intended message that the masks are symbolic representations of punishment for “nativist fear tactics.”

Some of the masks also correspond to the traditional seven deadly sins (“Lust,” “Envy” and “Vanity” appear without the descriptive additions that “Greed” gets). But “Sorrow” also appears, an appropriate response to the sins he calls out with his shame masks, but scarcely a subject for a mask in itself, unless his message is that just being sad instead of actively shaming is a reason to be ashamed in itself.

This is a startling exhibition, and a worthy end to a year in which Day & Night Projects presented a range of exhibitions that is well worth contemplating alongside the exhibitions from the previous four years that are documented on their website.

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Dr. Jerry Cullum’s reviews and essays have appeared in Art Papers magazine, Raw Vision, Art in America, ARTnews, International Journal of African-American Art and many other popular and scholarly journals. In 2020 he was awarded the Rabkin Prize for his outstanding contribution to arts journalism. 

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