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.
In 1999, the curatorial staff wrote in the citation for her Bronze Musgrave Medal: “The powerful lines, naturalistic details and luminous colours of [Dawn Scott’s] batik paintings illustrate her exceptional mastery of this challenging medium. Hers is a humanist art in which the human figure takes central stage. Her social concerns are reflected in her dignified but graphic depictions of the life of the working class.” Dawn Scott’s commitment to using of art as a vehicle for social commentary was most obvious in A Cultural Object. About this work, she wrote in 1985:
[T]he main emphasis is on some of our favourite national obsessions mainly as projected in the media, a psychological condition in which we are obliged to live, especially our poorest and most vulnerable, and the resulting way in which people see and project themselves, mainly through graffiti. The piece has been constructed for the most part in a realistic mode, so as to reduce the distance between the viewer and object as much as possible for maximum impact. The graffiti has been photographed or faithfully copied from the streets of Kingston, the central figure cast from life, the very metal sheets searched out from ghetto areas where such corrugated metal forms the fencing for every sort of yard and enclosure. Combined with this are the familiar media images, ads for alcoholic beverages, Dance Hall posters […] The spiral construction is constructed to give a claustrophobic, hemmed-in feeling.
A Cultural Object was acquired by the National Gallery and is now on view in a gallery of its own in the permanent exhibitions, where it is one of the most popular exhibits. While it was the only site-specific installation Dawn Scott ever produced, A Cultural Object was a landmark in the development of contemporary Jamaican art. Its provocative use of urban realities and materials had a notable influence on other contemporary artists. Most recently, this has included Ebony G. Patterson’s Cultural Soliloquy – the spectacular, “blinged out” car in the NGJ’s recent Young Talent V exhibition – which was subtitled Cultural Object Revisited and represented a contemporary response to Dawn Scott’s 1985 installation.
Dawn Scott was aptly described by her friend, the American critic Edward Gomez as “a talented artist, teacher and cultural activist who loved her homeland and was deeply inspired by its history, its people and its culture in the making of her work, which she generously shared with local audiences and the world.” We share his sense of loss and present our condolences to her family and friends.