Exhibitions - to reverberate tenderly

sonia louise davis
to reverberate tenderly

12.06.23 – 04.07.24

A photo of the Queens Museum's Gallery Five showing a large lavender wall covered in painted turquoise markings and neon sculptures. A colorful tufted artwork is hanging at the entrance of the gallery. Two sounder sculptures are presented on turquoise pedestals in the center of the room. One is a curved yellow piece with a trumpet-like top, and the other is a magenta piece with a three-foot base, two flat percussion surfaces, and a V shaped top with small metallic pieces.

Installation view, sonia louise davis, "score for Queens Museum," 2023. Image by Hai Zhang.

to reverberate tenderly is a multi-sensory exhibition and living environment for creative activity. As a visual artist, writer, and performer, sonia louise davis’ working ethos is invested in improvisation as a form of research that uses the body as a guide. The artist’s philosophy is characterized by improvisation not only as it relates to experimental music, but as a daily exercise of care, resilience, radical softness, and self-determination in the face of systemic injustices. 


to reverberate tenderly includes textile-based soft paintings, a wall mural with neons, and the debut of davis’ custom steel instruments, or “sounders,” to be activated by performers. The artist creates graphic scores using an invented notation that manifests in her work across media. Situated within a lineage of Black feminist abstraction and avant-garde music, this vocabulary of lines, curves, dots, rings, and dashes are interwoven, layered, and repeated throughout the gallery. These notations or gestures are echoed in davis’ soft paintings by an industrial tufting machine, which runs yarns through the surface of each work to create voluminous forms with high relief and texture. 


Throughout the exhibition, davis’ gestures interact with and inform each other: whether as three-dimensional instruments played by performers in response to her painted wall score or as soft paintings which dampen the acoustics of the space. More than passive abstractions, the bright and vibratory works are also active, functional objects that encourage a heightened sense of awareness and deep listening. to reverberate tenderly explores what is possible in a new type of sonic space, one that is attuned to vulnerability and generosity while offering a soft landing for ideas to resonate. 


sonia louise davis: to reverberate tenderly is organized by Lindsey Berfond, Assistant Curator and Studio Program Manager.



sonia louise davis invites musicians Rena Anakwe, Sarah Galdes, and Sugar Vendil to improvise with her three steel instruments, or sounders, for two performances in the gallery space. The performances will be followed by a talkback with the artist and collaborators.


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About the Artist

sonia louise davis (b. New York, NY, 1988) earned her BA with honors in African American Studies from Wesleyan University and is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program. She is a 2023-2024 Artist in Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her latest solo exhibition, resonant frequencies, blossoming tones, at Hesse Flatow (NY) was listed a “must see” by Artforum in 2022. She has presented her work at the Whitney Museum (NY), ACRE (Chicago), Sadie Halie Projects (Minneapolis), Ortega y Gasset (Brooklyn),  and Artists Space (NY), among other venues. Residencies and fellowships include the Laundromat Project’s Create Change Fellowship, Civitella Ranieri, New York Community Trust Van Lier Fellowship at the International Studio & Curatorial Program, Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practice, and Stoneleaf Retreat. Her newest book, slow and soft and righteous, improvising at the end of the world (and how we make a new one) was published in 2021 by Co—Conspirator Press, which operates out of the Feminist Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. Sonia lives and works in Harlem.


sonia louise davis: to reverberate tenderly is made possible in part by lead support from the Jerome Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Queens Museum Exhibitions Circle.


The Queens Museum is housed in the New York City Building, which is owned by the City of New York.

The Museum is supported, in part, by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with Mayor Eric Adams, the Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and the New York City Council under the leadership of Speaker Adrienne E. Adams.

Major funding is generously provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, Hearst Foundations, Jerome Foundation, MacMillan Family Foundation, Mellon Foundation, E.A. Michelson Philanthropy, New York Community Trust, Lambent Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.