This exhibition presents the work of John Dunkley (b. 1891, Savanna-la-Mar, Jamaica; d. 1947, Kingston), widely considered to be one of Jamaica’s most important historical artists. John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night will include paintings from the 1930s and ‘40s alongside a smaller selection of carved-wood and stone sculptures. Dunkley’s paintings are defined by their distinctive dark palette, detailed imagery—often landscapes––and psychologically suggestive underpinnings. His intimate sculptures reflect more figurative elements—people and animals—and offer insights into his unique iconography. Although his work is well represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, as well as in international private collections, Dunkley has not been the focus of a solo exhibition since the 1970s, and never before outside Jamaica. This exhibition represents a unique opportunity to bring together a substantial grouping of his work and to create an international context for its study.
Dunkley was born in rural northwestern Jamaica, and as a young man traveled to Panama and Costa Rica to work, eventually settling for a time in Chiriquí, a province in western Panama. There he worked as a barber and began to create his first small paintings. Concurrently, he also worked as an assistant to a studio photographer active in the region, possibly retouching and coloring photographs. Dunkley returned to Jamaica in the mid-to-late 1920s, continuing to work as a barber in a shop near downtown Kingston’s busy port, and to make paintings and wood carvings. His oeuvre spans little more than a decade, and only approximately 50 paintings are known to exist today, alongside a small number of sculptures. Dunkley was working at a pivotal time in Jamaica’s history, and like figures such as Marcus Garvey, he is part of a generation of West Indian men who traveled abroad to work, both in the region and internationally, and returned home to contribute to the formation of an independent Jamaica. His life and work provide insight into the broader economic and social factors, as well as the popular culture, that defined this era in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night will be accompanied by a richly illustrated, bilingual (English and Spanish) catalogue featuring essays by Diana Nawi, the exhibition curator, David Boxer, the leading authority on Dunkley, and Olive Senior, a prominent critic and historian of West Indian culture, as well as an illustrated timeline by Nicole Smythe-Johnson. The catalogue will provide analysis of Dunkley’s work while situating him within his artistic, social, and economic context.