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

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

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.

Dawn Scott - A cultural Object (1985), detail of political graffiti

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16 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Dawn Scott (1951-2010)

  1. A sad day (yet again) for the Jamaican art scene. I remember so well when “A cultural object” was first displayed – the myriads of comments, the reactions we felt. But that’s a sign of great art and we could always count on Dawn to make us think outside the box. Her batik work was superb and I only regret that she didn’t exhibit more. A unique personality and very special person is gone…deserving a minute of silence. Walk good Dawn.

  2. “de mad gal gone.”
    She was mad about her art
    mad about her country
    mad about nature
    and mad about the pollution that helped to wreck her health
    an intense, emotional, heartical person, my most endearing memory of her is the pet lizard she brought to school at Alpha which had us girls giving her a wide berth for a week. Walk good Dawn.

  3. Eternal rest grant unto her. Her tremendous talent lives on. I remember Dawn well from our days at Alpha Academy. Truly gifted. Sincere condolences to her family and friends.

  4. Dear Dawn.
    I am glad that I saw you in the hospital in the midst of your pain you had your beautiful fabrics, your strong voice and the presence of mind to direct the nurses who were lifting you.

    You lived until the last moment with the power you have had with the many joys, tribulations, loves and lives that you had. Your daughters and grandchildren, your friends and family inherit the blessings of a brilliant, beautiful,boisterous and exceptional woman.To the end you loved to have visitors and we should honour you by developing a scholar in your name.
    I will always remember your laughter, your passion and your belief in love. Thanks for all that food, those batiks those feasts and all that you taught us.

  5. I remember her hand made soaps … Those who threaded me to her … Christopher Irons, artist/sculpture, Hilary – film/theatre, Ann – ar(t) chitect ; ahhhh all that art! All that Life. Walk good Ms. Dawn. Until yuh nex life.

  6. Crazy wonderful lady. You brought art, mischief and joy into our lives and what fun we had. Such a cheeky bathroom mural, so much fun with Jabberwocky Art Clothes . The crazy cooking creations that always worked. I haven’t seen you for years and then the day after I take one of your wonderful batik jackets out of my drawer to look at it again I receive the news. Go well. Laugh long. All love to the family you leave behind.

  7. Dawn was one of those wonderful “quirky” souls who was often misunderstood. Her enthusiasm for all that she did was unbounded. I am pleased to see that she received at least some of the recognition she deserved in life. I remember her well from boarding school days at Alpha – you never knew what to expect when Dawn was around! May she enjoy the hereafter with the same excitement she had in life – I daresay, wherever she is, it is surely a livelier more colorful place because she’s there.

  8. Pingback: The NGJ Blog – 2010 in review « National Gallery of Jamaica Blog

  9. I remember riding in the back of an open pickup truck in the rain from Hope Bay to Kingston, singing Bob Marley at the top of our voices and laughing all the way to Ann’s or Carolyn’s… I remember the batik you made in Omaha and the shirt you made for me from it… I remember all the cooking lessons you gave…I remember the love we shared… I remember how much I loved and lived life when around you… Dawn, my sweetheart, rest in peace, you made a huge mark on this world and we will always remember…

  10. All you guys comments are touching and warming…
    I am Skye Jackson the Grandson of Dawn…
    If anyone would like to chat… please do give a call.. My number is 285-9355

    P.S I miss my grandma dearly! 😥

    • Dear Skye, I am your grandmother’s friend from Guyana. I am on skype at charlenewilkinson in case you want to talk. We don’t know each other, but all I can say right now is that your grandmother’s spirit is powerful. Last night, without even knowing the date, I sat before my computer and wrote that piece on the “Cultural Object’ in remembrance of Dawn. Then I browsed and found the blog and lo and behold, it reminded me that i was writing about her on September 20th. Need we guess any longer about spiritual power?

  11. So sad while surfing the web today to discover my old friend Dawn had passed away two years ago. The last time I saw her was in the late ’80s when she was in London for an exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute, but over the years I have had a recurring dream that I am back in Jamaica visiting her. In the ’80s when I was researching art in Jamaica for my PhD, Dawn found me a place to live in the same yard as her and introduced me to so many people, places and things Jamaican. From introducing me to artists and musicians, feeding me, teaching me to tie-dye, taking me diving on the north coast for sea urchins to make soup, lending me her books….I can’t believe she won’t be there.

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