Location: Cabot, AR
Describe your featured work:
“With You Always” is a ritualistic performance conducted several times a week throughout one year. I began the project during my final semester of grad school and intended to have it half-way completed for my MFA thesis exhibit. During each performance session, I traveled to a creek in Little Rock and filmed myself stretching a hammock between trees and falling backward into the hammock’s embrace. I then read a page from scripture and spent time in prayer. Going into the project, I wanted the various water levels of the creek to represent God’s “felt” presence. I aimed to enact one’s faithfulness, trust, and spiritual devotion throughout all seasons and water levels.
Unfortunately, during the first five months of video footage, the creek never rose. And the water—the symbol of God’s presence—was completely absent. In fact, it didn’t rain for months. Meteorologists later claimed it was the driest fall in the history of central Arkansas. I was at a loss; but how could I abandon a project that was supposed to represent “faithfulness”? Despite the discouragement, I continued to make the pilgrimage to the creek several times a week; praying for rain.
The week before my thesis exhibit, it rained for three days straight. When it stopped, I made one last trek to the creek and was overwhelmed by the immersive flow. What a humbling experience! After the exhibit, I continued the project and ritual for six more months. I have never been more deeply impacted by any other artistic endeavor.
My work is a blend of traditional and contemporary practices. I have roots in representational oil painting and a strong affinity for time-based media and performance art. I was first introduced to performance art when reading the Old Testament. As a young artist, I was smitten with how Hebrew prophets like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah used their bodies to engage in powerful spiritual metaphors. Through their performances, abstract and mystical ideas were brought into the physical realm—becoming incarnate. Inspired by prophets and poets, I create art that integrates spiritual symbolism with the human body. By placing my subjects in absurd scenarios, I make pointed commentaries on spiritual faith and explore the dialogue between religion, theology, and contemporary culture.
What are you making now?
I am currently exhibiting a body of work called “Saints Re-Formed.” The series features twelve large oil paintings and a video installation inspired by the legends and symbols of historic saints. The project was fueled by my interest in church history and Medieval and Renaissance art. I’ve always been intrigued by how saints are portrayed and how the strange and symbolic objects associated with them remind viewers of their life or martyrdom. In this project, I wanted to explore these artistic traditions and discover how the ideas and symbols might speak to a broader, contemporary audience.
I belong to CIVA because…
CIVA fosters a unique community that I cannot find anywhere else. I’ve experienced many challenges navigating the tensions between serious art and serious faith, but CIVA reminds me that I’m not alone. I love seeing the work of other faithful artists and hearing their stories. CIVA shows how God can use a multitude of creative visions to usher His glory into the world. It’s inspiring, and it gives me the jolt I need to crawl out of my creative slump and make something.
Tessa Davidson is a multi-media artist and educator working outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. Tessa’s work has been exhibited internationally, and she received her M.F.A. from the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2018. Tessa holds a B.A. in Art Education and a M. Ed in Secondary Education from Harding University, as well as a M.A. in Art History from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. Tessa is currently an Assistant Professor of Art and Design at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.