Becoming an Artist Was a Dream Deferred for Sculptor Kim Dacres

The new installation explores the multifaceted tensions inherent in Black women's self-presentation, and the reception of that presentation, in our contemporary social environment.

New York native Kim Dacres hasn’t always considered herself a traditional artist, although she acknowledges the origins of her earliest creative impulses. Born and raised in the Bronx, she learned to work with her hands at home.

Rubber busts on wooden columns
An installation view of ‘Measure Me in Rotations’. Courtesy Charles Moffett Gallery

“My parents are both very hands-on people,” Dacres said in a recent conversation with Observer. “My mom would be like, ‘Okay, we are going to paint this fence, lay down this carpet, do this tile. And then my father is a repairman of household appliances, like stoves and refrigerators. There were always very hands-on sculpture-like activities.”

Dacres would likewise play with her older brother’s LEGO sets, and quickly realized she relished the challenge of constructing objects. Yet though she was a maker at heart, Dacres forewent the traditional route of getting a BFA and then an MFA.

“I knew I wanted to do political science no matter what, and I knew I wanted to do Africana studies,” she said, adding that she also wanted to do something fun for herself. That’s what led her to incorporate art into her studies.

Initially, Dacres looked for classes in painting, printmaking, film and photography, but none worked for her, schedule-wise. So she took courses in not only drawing but also metalworking and woodworking. It almost seemed as though the universe was subtly guiding her toward the realm of sculpture.

Once again, Dacres demurred. Instead of pursuing art as a career, she went into education, becoming a teacher, then a middle school principal and then a professor. Being in the classroom did offer opportunities to employ her artistic spirit, however.

“You have to be able to touch on the visual and the audio culture with the students,” she explained. She’d often use music as a tool to help students learn to analyze texts.

But after dedicating over a decade to education, Dacres found herself exhausted and disillusioned. She was tired of the respectability politics and “tired of the nonsense…tired of the whiteness of it all.”

Dacres was finally willing to bet on herself—to grab hold of the dream of becoming an artist she’d pushed aside for so long. Reflecting on the transition from full-time educator to full-time artist, she referenced art as being something that fed her spirit in a different way. Dacres found parallels between setting up classroom furniture to ensure ADA compliance and putting together art and installations.

Two rubber busts on wooden columns
Two busts from ‘Measure Me in Rotations’ at Charles Moffett Gallery. Courtesy Charles Moffett Gallery

“How a space feels is really important to me,” she said, adding that how things and people fill in the spaces is just as important. This inclination towards creating immersive and accessible environments is on view at Charles Moffett Gallery, the site of Dacres’ first solo show in New York since 2019. The deliberate arrangement of the pieces encourages viewers to experience the sculptures in the round, allowing one to move through the space and appreciate the intricate three-dimensional complexities of each work, as well as the time-consuming artistry that goes into them.

Measure Me in Rotations showcases ten new sculptures by Dacres, including eight busts and two standing pieces—all created from recycled tires, carefully disassembled, then cut and shaped into figurative sculptures. The process of sourcing rubber tires for this show alone was a 15-month endeavor, though not an unpleasant one.

Dacres has a routine for acquiring materials. She visits a bike shop in Harlem that reserves tires for her, and she also takes pleasure in going to a Harley Davidson dealership in New Rochelle that does the same. Occasionally, she’ll turn her ongoing quest for tires into a multi-day adventure, exploring different locations.

“Wherever I see an opportunity, and I’m driving and I can pull over, I’m gonna pick up a tire,” she said. “And I always find that fun.”

The search isn’t just about finding the necessary quantity of her chosen medium. Dacres looks for tires with unique, and specific, tread patterns to give each sculpture and bust a unique visual identity.

The core theme of the show revolves around the celebration and importance of natural hair for Black women and girls as a means of self-expression. According to a statement released by the Charles Moffett Gallery, the collection of sculptures in Measure Me in Rotations “feature the natural hairstyles that Dacres observes across her community every day and drawing from her time working in New York City public schools—various numbers and combinations of buns, twists, and Bantu Knots—in an investigation of the multifaceted tensions inherent within Black women’s self-presentation, and the reception of that presentation, in our contemporary social environment.”

Eight busts in the show are named after Dacres’ students. She emphasized that the act of naming asserts identity and individuality, and in naming each piece after a living person, she could imbue an inanimate object with a spirit and individuality. The two remaining works, Anita and Phyllis, pay homage to Anita Baker and Phyllis Hyman, respectively. Dacres shared that her parents’ consistent love for music also deeply influenced her, stating that “it’s always been there in the background; it’s essential.”

When discussing her intentions for the show, Dacres emphasized that she wants viewers to recognize hair as both a form of sculpture and an expression of intention. She wants to express the tension between the right to self-presentation and how that presentation is received—especially in professional spaces. It’s something with which she is intimately familiar.

“I feel like I have tried every style under the sun to find one that made me feel comfortable until I landed here,” she said, pointing at her own bare scalp. It was a multifaceted experience for Dacres, who shaved her head while still in education, found herself confronting other things about gender and sexuality that she didn’t anticipate, like being misgendered. The reaction from her students and friends was very positive, but she also recalls going through the interview process for a charter school position with long hair and showing up on the first day with a shaved head. It elicited a reaction from her fellow educators that wasn’t necessarily as positive.

“By integrating the precision and intentionality behind each hairstyle within the creation of each sculpture,” the gallery statement continues, “Dacres’s work underscores the struggle for authorship over one’s own image and celebrates the assertive power of self-presentation.”

Dacres can encapsulate that using such simple materials because her work reflects her own lived experiences.

“How my hair is sculpted has nothing to do with how you should measure my talent and abilities and professionalism,” she reiterated.

Measure Me in Rotations is on view through June 24th at Charles Moffett Gallery.

Becoming an Artist Was a Dream Deferred for Sculptor Kim Dacres