Interview with ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ Artist Delano Dunn

This is the first installment of the ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ artist interview series. ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ features work by Delano Dunn, Damien Davis, and Brandon Dean.

Delano Dunn | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ from August 29 to October 15, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Lisa Noll

 

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To begin, can you give some information on where you’re from and how you became interested in pursuing art?

 

I am from Los Angeles. I was born and raised there until 1997 when I came out for undergraduate. I went to Pratt and studied illustration. I did that for a few years then after doing a couple of jobs where I had to sue to get paid for, I wanted to start a studio practice. In addition, when you work as an illustrator you are subjected to whatever your editor wants, and you lose creative control. So, I found myself getting into a studio practice and that led me to where I am now. I went to graduate school in 2014 and graduated in 2016. In high school I was really into the arts and I did music and acting but the visual arts seemed to win out.

 

Are there other artists that you take inspiration from? Where can this influence be seen in your pieces?

 

I don’t particularly take influence from other visual artists. I get a lot of my influence from literature, music, the news, history… a lot of that plays into how I approach things. That source material dictates how I decide to go about something. There are artists I really like, like Mickalene Thomas. It’s more about their practice and how they are dedicated to what they do, how they are willing to push boundaries that inspires me the most.

 

What is the importance of color in your work – how does it frame or underscore your larger concepts and reflections?

 

Color is an amazing gate way. People respond well to color, whether it is the absence of color or the abundance of it. My choice is to have an abundance of color. I don’t know how that happened. I’ve always been someone who has done work with a great deal of color. For me, it’s two-fold; when you see a great deal of color, in most cases, I like to think people are going to approach that color. It’s inviting, it’s engaging. And with that, it’s kind of like I can trap you so if you are willing to engage on the level of strictly visual appreciation, then maybe you are willing to go a little deeper to see what the undercurrent really is. If you are going to talk about varying subject matter like drug addiction, civil liberty issues, violence, then you need to say to people ‘it’s okay, come over to this carnival so you can really see what’s going on behind the tent.’ One of the analogies I like to use is that it looks like a very enticing piece of candy or unbelievable piece of cake and your mouth waters and as soon as you bite into it you go ‘oh this is really bitter and it’s not what I thought it would be’, but at least you engaged, at least you got in there and I was able to suck you in and say ‘this is really what I was trying to tell you’.

 

In my blog about your work I wrote about female representation. Can you speak to the importance of female representation in your work?

 

My wife is an avid feminist. There was no agenda whatsoever but just knowing her and getting to know her I found myself going from being very into issues with the African American experience to also wanting to focus on feminism and the experience of women. When we had our daughter I thought, maybe I could produce a body of work for her or I can change my practice to show her that it doesn’t need to be just women who can contribute to this dialogue, but men can do it too. Not to appropriate this experience, but to say, ‘look I am on your side and I’m also going to contribute to this conversation’. So that is how I started to do work that, instead of always using the male figure, let’s use a female figure. Why can’t I communicate the exact same message but with the female figure? That took the message someplace else, some place deeper. I contribute a lot of that to my wife and a great deal of that to our daughter. Female representation is important I don’t think enough men do enough to try to understand what that experience is like.

 

One of your works, Jane Crow, references Supreme Court cases fought and won by the ACLU and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, on behalf of women in the United States. Regarding this work, studies have long shown that the judicial system in America creates a system in which African Americans are the most negatively impacted and disenfranchised, but mostly focus on African American men. What led you to begin thinking about and wanting to create an artwork that focuses on women, specifically African American women?

 

If you look back at the emancipation proclamation, you see that women are completely absent from it. None of the language is about it. It’s all about black men. If you look at the constitution, there is no language in it about women. If you proceed toward the amendments, it goes for a very long time before it gets into women, and even then, it’s like ‘are you really talking about women?’ And it’s kind of amazing, yet women held so much, and they do hold so much, yet they are clearly absent from a lot of the official documentation of the American experience. With African American women it seemed like a very glaring thing that when people talk about slavery or make a work about slavery you usually see this image of a proud male slave with a supportive woman behind him and that, to me, implies their experience with slavery is sort of second to men. You have black men whose bodies are being completely used as a tool but think about the experience of black women during slavery. You are forced to breed with other slaves to make more babies and your babies are taken and sold. While you are still lactating, you are forced to not only feed the black babies who are also yours, but you are also forced to feed the masters babies and you are also forced to be raped by the master. That is a hell of a lot to go through so why is it, again, considered second to the black male experience? It’s phenomenal.

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