Slide Show: Dawn Scott – A Cultural Object (1985)

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We present this slide-show on Dawn Scott’s seminal site-specific installation A Cultural Object (1985), in tribute to the artist, who passed away on Tuesday. You can read more about A Cultural Object, which is on permanent view at the NGJ,  by clicking this link.

Photographs: Phillip Rhoden, NGJ

In Memoriam: Dawn Scott (1951-2010)

Dawn Scott at work on A Cultural Object in June 1985 - producing the body cast for the central figure

The National Gallery of Jamaica deeply regrets to announce that the Jamaican artist and designer Dawn Scott has passed away this morning, September 21, 2010.

Born Alison Dawn Scott in Mandeville in 1951, Dawn Scott had her first exhibition in 1971, when she showed a group of paintings, drawings and sculptures at the United States Information Service in Kingston. She started producing figurative batik paintings in the mid 1970s and first exhibited these in 1975 at the Creative Arts Centre of the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. She also lived in Barbados in the late 1970s  and exhibited there at the Queen’s Park Gallery and Yoruba House in 1978.

Figurative batik was Dawn Scott’s main medium for some twenty years, culminating in her solo exhibition Nature Vive (1994) at the Grosvenor Galleries in Kingston. By far her most impactful exhibition, however, was her contribution to Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed (1985), the National Gallery’s (and Jamaica’s) first exhibition of installation art. On this occasion, she produced A Cultural Object, a haunting, spiral-shaped “zinc fence” structure which transposed some of the realities of Jamaica’s inner city life into the gallery spaces of the National Gallery.

Dawn Scott has taught textile art at the School of Visual Arts, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where she recently also served as an external examiner. She was also active as a fashion designer and her handmade, hand-dyed clothes were in great demand, locally, in the 1980s and early 1990s. Around 1980, she had been closely involved in the restoration of the Harmony Hall manse in Tower Isle, St Mary, and designed the ornamental fretwork for the building. Her long-standing interest in interior design and architectural detailing became her primary professional preoccupation in the latter years of her life and she was involved in major projects such as the Island Village in Ocho Rios and the Goldeneye Villas in Oracabessa, Portland, on both of which she collaborated with the acclaimed Jamaican architect Ann Hodges. Each of these projects adapted aspects of Jamaica’s architectural heritage in a contemporary context.

Dawn Scott received the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary Medal in 1979 and a Bronze Musgrave Medal for merit in the Visual Arts in 1999.

Dawn Scott - Indian Girl (n.d.), batik

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Dawn Scott’s “A Cultural Object”

Dawn Scott - A Cultural Object (1985) - detail of central figure

This post is about one of the most popular and controversial art works in the NGJ’s permanent collection, Dawn Scott’s “A Cultural Object” (1985). The post is adapted from an article in progress by NGJ Executive Director Veerle Poupeye.

Dawn Scott (b1951) is a Jamaican textile artist and interior designer who is best known for her realist batik paintings and, since the 1990s, her innovative store and interior designs for the local and tourist markets. She participated in the NGJ’s 1985 Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed exhibition, an exhibition for which six artists were invited to produce installations in the NGJ’s exhibition galleries, and then produced A Cultural Object, her only installation to date. The room-sized work effectively brings the physical and cultural environment of the Kingston inner cities into the “high culture” space of the NGJ. It consists of a spiral-shaped “zinc-fence”, made from recuperated corrugated metal and lumber – the dominant building materials in the local squatter settlements. The surfaces contain the sort of street art, shop signs and graffiti that are commonly seen in Kingston’s inner cities. It starts with a large sign that reads “Culture zone, enter at your own risk,” which spoofs the “PNP (or JLP) zone, enter at your own risk” inscriptions that mark the borders of many political garrison communities. The imagery and graffiti on the walls successively deal with popular music, street food, the rum bar, the beauty culture, the attitudes towards women and sexuality, religion, politics and, at the centre, mental illness and homelessness, which takes the form of the reclining, rag-clad figure of a male street person. At first sight, the installation appears unplanned, much like a squatter settlement, but it is carefully orchestrated: the claustrophobic, trap-like spiral corridor deliberately takes the visitor from amusement to horror, when the shockingly realistic street person in the middle is suddenly seen.

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