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Leviathan: Susan David

Leviathan: Susan David

Exhibition Dates: Sept. 9, 2022 — Jan. 7, 2023

A site-responsive, theatrical installation by one of Lafayette’s well-known muralists features an impressive mural and preparatory sketches. This installation asks, “what lurks in the hearts of men?”

Creative Conversations with Susan David is available to stream online through our partnership with AOC Community Media.

—Hilliard Art Museum

Susan David uses the scale of her murals to convey the vastness of the ideas she expresses. The figure in David’s mural is not a specific woman. She is composed of many creatures framed by an abstract, geometric form. She is also the metaphorical embodiment of leviathan, a large mythic sea creature. As with all of David’s work, there is a psychological depth that alludes to the internal turmoil caused by the intellectual process of setting oneself within society and perceiving the contradictions and conflicts that emerge.

The concept of a leviathan cuts across cultures and centuries. The leviathan has the potential to speak powerfully about how we understand ourselves and each other, be it the leviathan-like goddess Tiāmat from Enūma Eliš, the Babylonian creation epic; the leviathan in Psalm 104:26 or Job 41 from the Bible; Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 book Leviathan about government; or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

In a museum setting, David can double down on the drama normally found in her work because, unlike most of her murals, it is not outside. Note the murmur of the audio track playing in the space. The ominous drone is unsettling in that it feels like there is something unseen occupying the gallery space. Equally dramatic is the looming darkness that holds sway over the Hilliard’s normally well-lit and expansive gallery. After reading this text and turning the corner, David’s mural will seemingly emerge from its imagined deep-sea home.

About the Mural

Artist Susan David says that she likes the idea of her murals “being unavoidable or maybe conversation starters.” In what ways is this mural unavoidable? What does it make you want to talk about?

About Leviathan:

What is a real or imaginary creature that fascinates you or that has a special meaning to you?

About the Installation:

David approached this space like a theater, with attention to lighting and sound. How would you describe the mood?


Janine Antoni and Kiki Smith are among the artists who influence the dark tone of David’s work. In a complementary way, the influence of Alphonse Mucha’s organic and decorative sense of line, considered anti-academic in the twenty years prior to the First World War, serves as an enticement to contemplating an individual’s or society’s potentially darker urges. Mucha’s work, like David’s, also references traditional folkways as a way of speaking to something more primordial. David’s personal, thoughtful engagement with art also has its roots in Lygia Clark’s conception of abstractions as an invitation to viewers. Take David’s emblematic radiating diamond pattern in the middle of her mural. It serves the purpose of leading the eye throughout the composition. It is at odds with and unifies the curling, vivid natural forms in David’s Leviathan. In a way its function mimics the manner in which most individuals come to terms with being co-opted into society at large.