Artist brings beauty to a scarred Ferguson

Martez Davis, left, and Anthony Gatling, 19, help put up Damon's art on boarded up Red's Barbecue restaurant.

Story highlights

  • Damon Davis saw the hands of fellow protesters as a symbol of unity
  • He is covering the plywood on boarded-up businesses with photos of those hands
  • He wants them to signal hope in a town on edge, awaiting a grand jury's verdict
In an odd way, I sense calm as cars and buses whiz by at rush hour. It is a sign of normalcy.
The snow has stopped falling and more people are out and about on this afternoon. West Florissant Avenue almost looks like it did before that August day when Michael Brown was shot and killed.
Except the reminders that are hard to miss.
The burned and looted QuikTrip gas station. The boarded up businesses. And on Canfield Drive, a block away, a memorial to Brown.
Businesss owners covered up windows and doors with plywood after protesters clashed with police on West Florissant. Some had taken the plywood down but have put the boards back up, ahead of a grand jury decision on whether to indict police Officer Darren Wilson. It is as if they are readying for a storm.
They scribbled the word "Open" on the plywood. And neighborhood kids wasted no time making their mark with spray-painted graffiti.
But on Thursday, artist Damon Davis was out covering up some of the scars, creating beauty amid the ugliness.
St. Louis artist Damon Davis puts up one of his posters. He wants them to serve as a message of hope for Ferguson.
I watch as he picks up a roller and applies a layer of glue on the plywood covering up a window to Red's Barbecue. He positions one of his photographs and sticks it on. "The plywood is so ugly," he says.
Davis was among those who took to the streets to demand accountability for Brown's death. What happened in Ferguson, he says, should never again happen anywhere in America.
It is personal for him. He is a 29-year-old black man who was born and raised in impoverished East St. Louis. Racial inequities have always been big in his artistic expressions.
He took photos of the hands of the people around him at the Ferguson protests. Black hands. White hands. Old ones and young ones. And he made them into posters to display in public.
Artist Damon Davis' hands art covers the windows to the convenience store where Michael Brown entered before he was killed August 9.
"We have a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds coming together," he says. "People look at the hands and kind of get it instantly."
Hands have become a big symbol for Ferguson protesters who allege that Wilson shot Brown even though he was unarmed and, they say, had his hands up in the air. Some Wilson supporters, however, say Brown was a thief and a thug who scuffled with the officer and provoked him into shooting.
Davis' art caught my eye instantly as I drove down West Florissant, past fast food shops, beauty stores, laundromats and convenience stores, all made ugly by the plywood.
Martez Davis and Anthony Gatling help Davis put up his work. Davis is only 14 and in the eighth grade. But he says he wants to be out here, helping the cause. A local store donated a cooler full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk. It is the only food the crew had eaten since morning.
Damon Davis is grateful that local businesses are supportive, especially since they paid a heavy price in lost revenues after the protests erupted.
As a young artist, Davis hoped to retain a fascination and wonder for the process of storytelling. That's what his Web page statement says.
But never did he expect to find himself walking West Florissant Avenue, plastering his art over boarded-up shops. Now his hands stand as memorial. And, he says, as hope amid despair.
He has many more sheets of plywood to cover as I leave him for the justice center in Clayton where the grand jury decision is expected to be announced at any moment. In the rear view mirror, West Florissant Avenue fades, just for a minute, and I see only the prints of hands on paper.