Originally hailing from Sweden, Anna U Davis has spent most of her time as a working artist in D.C., exhibiting at multiple galleries and twice receiving a D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities fellowship. She works with great precision, applying thousands upon thousands of tiny collage pieces to painted backgrounds and painstakingly outlining them in black. The resulting works depict female figures in sometimes surreal scenarios and confront issues of gender and race in surprising and bold ways. —Stephanie Rudig
When did you start working with collage?
Somewhere after school. I went to UDC, and we had to take African-American art history. So in that class [the professor] had us do these collages, and I got very intrigued with what I could do with that. I left it at that. It wasn’t until after I graduated that all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh, I should really try to infuse the collage.’ The seed started there, and then just happened naturally after I finished school in 2002.
So you came to D.C. from Sweden, specifically for college?
No. My husband is half Swedish, half African American, and his dad lived here, and we wanted to do something different. So that’s how I started. I wasn’t thinking necessarily of going to art school. I was doing the art, but it was more based on, “OK, we’re going here.”
So you have those family ties, and have stayed for that reason, but have you been inspired to stay here otherwise?
In the beginning, I didn’t feel like it’s this artsy town. It’s this town where you can do something, because the scene needs to be developed. You can actually do something cool here. You’re in the midst of all this politics, and everything happens here. When I first came, the art scene was in Dupont Circle. Another one was 14th street, in the same building there was a bunch of galleries. Now I think it’s only one left, the Hemphill. But they cannot stay. Which is a sad part of the city. You see that galleries can’t stay in the locations, it’s so expensive.
Aside from the issues of having space to show and being able to afford the rent, what other challenges do you see D.C. artists facing right now?
I think that the city is becoming a cooler and cooler city, in general. It’s more hip, it’s more than politics. You wish that it can also bleed over into the artistic community. You know that the money is here to buy a lot of art, but a lot of the buyers will go to other places. I just got a new collector, which was really exciting because they told me they only collect D.C. local artists. I haven’t heard that before.
Do you think that D.C. has influenced your work?
It must have, the whole city probably. My figures are based on the interracial relationship between my husband, who’s black, and I’m white, and then I went to a predominantly black school. Of course that influenced me, for just a brief second to be where you’re the minority, which, I would always be the majority in Sweden. And I’m continuing with also being here in D.C. with the politics, and being a woman. Because I feel coming from a Northern European country, where, we’re not equal, but Sweden is different.
Much of your work is the female form. Is any of that a reaction to the different power structures you see?
Probably yes, because it’s very male dominated. You see that here, of course, because it’s the politics. So many important decisions are made here every day. And now [post-election], I don’t even know. I mean it’s like, are we gonna go back to the kitchen? Back to ancient times?
You just did a collaboration with Dacha Supper Club. How did that come about?
Two owners are collectors of my work. They commissioned me to do a big piece, the Dacha Garden with all the people in it. I slightly altered the figures for that too, to capture some of these people they wanted in it. I usually don’t do commissions, but it was a very interesting, challenging thing to do. And the biggest piece I’ve ever done, on canvas. It’s seven by 10 foot. First we were going to have just an inauguration for the piece, but I’m really good friends with one of them, so we’re like, let’s do a whole event, instead of just that one piece. Some of it was my past, and several was what I’m doing right now.