Bookshlf Curator Spotlight: In Conversation with Isis Davis-Marks

By Isis Davis-Marks - February 3, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, Bookshlf will be celebrating unique and inspiring voices from our community. We’re excited to introduce Isis Davis-Marks, a writer and visual artist, to the Bookshlf community. Isis writes about arts and culture for various publications, her artwork has been displayed in the Yale School of Art and La Loma Projects Gallery, and her illustrations have appeared in Rumpus.

Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself and describe your areas of interest and expertise.

Hi! My name is Isis, and I’m a freelance writer and artist. I currently write about arts and culture for smithsonianmag.com. I’ve also published work in Artsy, Elephant magazine, the Rumpus, the Columbia Journal, and a number of other places. You can find my writing and artwork at @isisdavismarks on social media platforms.

Q. How did you originally become interested in writing and art and come to develop an expertise in these subjects?  

In college, I double majored in visual art (with a concentration in painting and printmaking) and philosophy, and I also received a journalism fellowship. I’ve always been interested in visual art and writing. As a child, I incessantly scribbled sketches and jotted things down, though I didn’t expect to pursue a career in the arts. But I realized that I wanted to make things with my hands and weave stories with my words. So, I did. I was lucky to grow up in New York City, and my family is extremely supportive. This helped me to become a writer. 

Q. What was the most influential piece of content to you growing up? (book, essay, show, magazine, movie, music) 

Jean Paul-Sartre’s play No Exit. Also, Hayo Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away.

 Q. What type of subjects will you be curating about on Bookshlf? 

I’m interested in creating Shelves about philosophy, critical theory, black history, fashion and beauty, archaeology, literature, music, and anything else that rolls through my mind.

Q. Is there a passion or cause that you may add to your Bookshlf?

I’m passionate about education, and I think it’s important for young people to feel confident about themselves and their abilities. When I was younger, I couldn’t envision myself entering the art or writing world because of my background, but now people are having more conversations about racism, classism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. I’d like to create an inclusive and accessible environment for people, and I hope that some of my content will help with this. 

Q. What is the one piece of content from one of your Shelves that someone aspiring to do what you do should read? 

I would recommend Audre Lorde’s The Uses of the Erotic. I feel that people in academia and publishing often try to rationalize every word and action, but sometimes it’s important to remember that we have bodies, and we should listen to them. Also, read The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

Q. Bookshlf is a community for the curious-minded. What does being curious mean to you?

I feel that I’ve always been an inquisitive person: I ask a lot of questions, tear through books and examine the world around me. I’m excited to be a part of the Bookshlf community because I’m constantly consuming media, so it’s great to have a place to access this content in a streamlined way.

Q. This month is Black History Month and while there are so many incredible historical figures to celebrate, is there one you particularly admire, and why?

I feel that it’s difficult to choose a single historical figure to celebrate: There are plenty of prominent black individuals, and the African diaspora is so vast. But I guess I’ll say Angela Davis. She fought for what she believed in and went to jail for it; wrote openly about racism, sexism, philosophy and Marxism; and she did it all with an amazing sense of style.

Q. Is there one of Angela’s books or another piece of content that you would recommend during Black History Month? 

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis. As I mentioned before, I think that Davis was (and still is) an important activist figure. She was also trained in philosophy, and I feel that her references to Marxist literature help explain how racism and sexism relate to larger structural systems. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House is also an important text. The essay discusses reasons why interdependency between women is important and why we cannot use tools that are historically oppressive to cause larger societal shifts. Recently, many people have advocated for black economic independence, which can be good, though I also believe that members of the black community should look beyond economic independence in order to change the underlying reasons why certain economic inequalities exist. How can we build a community that is focused on larger structural change? That is what I’m thinking about during Black History Month. 

Q. Who is one person (deceased or alive) who’s Bookshlf you would want to follow?

Adrian Piper. She is one of my favorite conceptual artists, and her work presents interesting questions about identity, politics, art, and philosophy.