Alonzo Davis Navigating Climate Change at Adkins Arboretum

By Editorial Team on May 9, 2023

Tue, 02 May 2023 - Fri, 30 June 2023

Alonzo David, Navigating Climate Change, mixed mediums with bamboo and windsurfing sails, 60″ H x 96″ W x 3″ D
Reception: Saturday, May 13, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Aglow with the electric hues of windsurfing sails and actual LED lights, Alonzo Davis’s bamboo “rafts” fill the gallery at the Adkins Arboretum Visitor’s Center. On view through June 30, they are part of his series “Navigating Climate Change,” an exuberant call-to-action for creative solutions to this urgent issue. There will be a reception on Saturday, May 13, from 2 to 4 p.m. featuring live music by bassist and American University professor Aram Sinnreich.

The Arboretum is honored to host Davis, a deeply influential African-American artist, teacher and gallerist whose long years of activism have helped put African-American artists into the spotlight since the mid-1960s. Born in Alabama, Davis spent his early days as an artist in Southern California. After teaching at colleges in California, Texas and Tennesee, he moved to the Washington, DC area where he has lived for the past two decades. A veteran traveler who has visited Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the American Southwest, Davis credits his exposure to many different cultures as a profound influence on his art.

It was his studio assistant’s Peace Corps posting to an island in the South Pacific that sparked Davis’s interest in the traditional stick charts used by Micronesians to navigate between distant islands, resulting in his “Navigation Series.” Featuring bamboo and LED lights, these brilliantly colored works soon evolved into the related series, “Navigating Climate Change” in which he began incorporating pieces of windsurfing sails.

“The concept combined ancient ways of charting with our high tech satellite-based navigation system known as GPS,” Davis explained. “This series complemented my use of both high tech and low-tech materials and techniques in my artwork.”

Hot pink, purple, glowing yellow and fluorescent green contrast with the bamboo’s natural colors in his large “Navigating Climate Change” assemblages. African-flavored geometries burnt into the bamboo combine with painted patterns to dance across their crisscrossing surfaces. Hovering beneath are angular pieces of brilliantly colored windsurfing sails tied with colored string to the bamboo, while hidden LEDs radiate a mysterious, unearthly luminosity.

“The idea of adding a windsurfing sail to the bamboo constructions was not only appealing aesthetically,” Davis said. “I thought first of the skill it takes to windsurf and from there began to muse on the many associations with elements of the climate crisis: our oceans, rising tides, and wind energy…to say nothing of the multiple approaches science has advanced to deal with it.”

Taut with energy and joyful color and texture, Davis’s works harbor many subtle messages. The burnt patterns on the bamboo recall the ongoing outbreaks of wildfires caused by climate change, while the openness of his compositions suggest the need for open, expansive creative thinking about this pressing problem. Made with bamboo, a renewable resource, their inspiration, the Micronesian stick charts, infers the deep understanding traditional cultures had of the earth. In combination with touches of 21st century technology—the bright sails, bits of hardware and glowing LEDs, these raft-like artworks speak of the necessity of considering and utilizing every available possibility in navigating this complex issue.

Davis said, “In essence, the series is my way of acknowledging world concern with how we relate to nature, ecology and climate change. I want the artwork to bring attention to how we address the effects and the vigor or lack of action around what portends to be a planetary turning point.”

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view May 2 through June 30 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or for gallery hours.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.