The work of Jamaican artist John Dunkley is exhibiting outside of Jamaica for the first time at the American Folk Art Museum starting Oct. 30. The exhibit titled “John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night,” features dozens of the late artist’s work and it is also the first time many of them will be at one place, said the co-curator.
“This is the first exhibit of his work in the United States and the largest since a retrospective organized by David Boxer in Kingston in the 1970s, and we spent quite some time getting a bulk of his work together in one room,” said Diana Nawi. “That was really the thrill of putting show together.”
Dunkley was a very expressive artist. His work paintings often could be interpreted in different ways, and showcased the beauty of nature.
“In his paintings, the landscapes have a very precise and unique visual language. It’s often ambiguous as to whether it’s day or night; there’s a recurrent orb that appears in the work that could be a sun or moon,” said Nawi. “That’s where the title of the show comes from.”
Coming up, Dunkley was active during the peak of Pan-Africanism within the Caribbean, and like one of his fellow countrymen, he was just as influential.
“He’s interesting because he’s from the generation of Marcus Garvey, and like Garvey and many other West Indian men and women of that era — Dunkley traveled quite a bit and was part of a generation that came home to lay the groundwork for the formation of an independent nation. Garvey is considered a national hero in Jamaica and is incredibly important there, as were the major cultural and political shifts that happened in the country and abroad that embody his thinking. As part of that same moment, Dunkley likewise can be understood as part of those major changes that foreshadowed the nationalist movements throughout the Caribbean and beyond. His work offers a visual record of that critical context.”
She says the show is has no theme but explores the specificity and uniqueness of his work.
“There is no theme for the show; the goal was to be as comprehensive as possible in bringing his work together. There are many themes that run through the show — chief among them the depiction of the landscape, but another important theme relates to the artist’s socio-political context. For instance, there is a painting and sculpture that can be read as critical of the presence of the United States military in Jamaica during World War II, as well as a work that speaks to the emergence of the Pan-African movement.