BFA Exhibition

At My Leisure
At My Leisure, Medium: Oil on canvas, Dimensions: 80inx60in, 2019
Embody: Diamond
Embody: Diamond, Medium: Oil on panel, Dimensions: 19.5inx14in, 2019
Embody: Triangle
Embody: Triangle, Medium: Oil on panel, Dimensions: 14inx14in, 2019
Embody: Hourglass
Embody: Hourglass, Medium: Oil on panel, Dimensions: 19.5inx14in, 2020
Embody: Trapezoid
Embody: Trapezoid, Medium: Oil on panel, Dimensions: 17.5inx14.25in, 2020
Embody: Circle
Embody: Circle, Medium: Oil on panel, Dimensions: 14inx13.75in, 2019
Renaissance Girl
Renaissance Girl, Medium: Oil on canvas, Dimensions: 24inx36in, 2020
Untitled, Medium: Oil on canvas, Dimensions: 30inx40in

Artist Information and Statement

Zhnai Davis,

BFA Candidate

 “Why?  They’re women portrayed as sensual but in control of their sensuality, in a manner that shows a black woman who wants to be herself.”  “And it’s not just black women, but women period, as sensual but in control of their sensuality and not just for the gaze of the presumed viewer, the white male,” adds Murrell, “You see that perspective unfolding to a more diverse group of artists and subjects of art “ -(Curator Denis Lurrell  Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today).

Being comfortable naked yet feeling vulnerable, my aim is to paint ( is to portray nude parts of a) full figured, African American woman nude in an empowering and positive light. I am embracing my body through this collection to evoke empowerment of the figure in an affirmative way.  I find that for me,  these paintings inspire a sense of self-acceptance. In my research I have discovered that nude male and female African Americans in paintings were perceived  primarily as sexual beings; through my work, I am challenging this stereotypical portrayal. 

As an art student, the models I have painted and rendered have largely been white or light skinned. My investigation uncovered the lack of women of color in art historical  paintings. Furthermore,  I found that there weren’t many full figured, female nude models painted in a positive or welcoming way. Art historical painting is filled with Caucasian nude models painted in alluring and in sexual context, none of them appeared to be of African descent. This brings me to why  I have become very interested  in women artists, such as Carrie Mae Weems, Deanna Lawson, Nona Faustine Simmons and many more on their stance of self awareness and acceptance. Carrie Mae Weems and Nona Faustine Simmons both use themselves as the focal point in their work. Throughout Carrie Mae Weems Kitchen Table Series,  she portrays an array of emotions and Simmons' work shows her very comfortable owning it all in her own skin. 

Their work led me to explore ways I could express my intent through a number of different trajectories.  Firstly, I chose to use myself as the nude model for this series in order to understand and build a better sense of confidence in being a black full figured woman. I continue to encounter vulnerabilities, anxieties and all sorts of negative thoughts but I am becoming more comfortable with my body as I complete each piece. Throughout this creative process it is inevitable that I am exploring ideas that reflect on self. 

“Look at me in my space, not a created version of yours”