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Exhibition

Delano Dunn: Novelties

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About

Key takeaways

1. Delano Dunn presents the viewer with two bodies of work that explore things we hold dear—family, love, comfort, tradition, and connection—and things that threaten to undermine them

Date

Jun 19 - Oct 11, 2021

Venue

Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

Brattleboro

erin@brattleboromuseum.org

Delano Dunn’s Novelties presents the viewer with two bodies of work that explore things we hold dear—family, love, comfort, tradition, and connection—and things that threaten to undermine them.

In the Paradise series of works on paper, Dunn uses the colorless backgrounds of an instructional manual on painting to explore the banality and insidiousness of stereotypes. Cartoon animals stand in for Black men and women, while white women and children are represented by delicate floral illustrations. The emptiness of the background mirrors the innocuous titles of each piece in the manual, while instructions for color palette and technique indicate an unseen artist who is complicit in the stories being told in each scene.

Roux—named for one of the important bases of Creole cuisine—is a series of chaotic, brightly colored mixed media works exploring family history and culinary tradition. The panels feature various ingredients in gumbo, which holds a special meaning in Dunn’s family. The wallpaper Dunn uses alludes to the nostalgia and comfort provided by the home-cooked gumbo. The rainbow-hued lines running through each piece provide a through current, bringing the disparate elements together like the recipe they are part of. All the while, encroaching marks and images of invaders threaten to obscure sections of each panel, pointing to the struggle to preserve Black domestic histories and traditions.

— Sarah Freeman, Curator

Novelties brings together two projects begun before the onset of Covid-19 but completed during the pandemic—‘Paradise’ and ‘Roux.’ Each body of work assesses love while also exploring infatuation, fear, tradition, and appropriation. 

‘Paradise’ probes these themes through simple paper collage. Each work consists of images from three sources: ‘Les Fleurs Animées’ illustrations by J.J. Grandville, ‘Walt Disney’s Uncle Remus Stories,’ and ‘How To Paint Landscapes’ instructional catalogues. Stereotypes of white women and black men interact in idyllic but colorless landscapes. The minimalist approach to the works is a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and my lack of resources due to shelter-in-place, when I was sharing a “studio” with my wife and our two children. The works were made with urgency and spontaneity, using only materials available in our home. Titled after lyrics from “Paradise” by Sade, these works reflect how the song became a therapeutic counterbalance to the frantic nature of a home with four humans unable to escape one another. 

‘Roux’ explores Black culinary traditions within my family—which includes great-grandparents who moved from Mississippi and Louisiana to southern California as part of the Great Migration—and the struggle to preserve Black domestic histories. Specifically, the work focuses on the tradition of gumbo: 

Gumbo, of all other products of the New Orleans cuisine, represents a most distinctive type of evolution of good cookery under the hands of famous Creole ‘cuisinières’ of the old New Orleans…They [gumbo recipes] need only to be tried to prove their perfect claim to the admiration of the many distinguished visitors and epicures who have paid tribute to our Creole Gumbo. — ‘The Picayune Creole Cook Book’ 

In ‘Roux,’ the holy ingredients of my family’s gumbo recipe emerge from clouds of silver tar, hovering amidst rays of color and mirrors. Men reach for the culinary figures, but sentry beasts protect them, thwarting the men’s attempts to claim and appropriate the family’s culture and the joy of being together.

— Delano Dunn