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Kenny Dunkan: a whole world identity

Performance by Kenny Dunkan "Back to basics", @OneSourceImage for tout-monde-festival.com

Invited by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the USA and the France Florida Foundation for the Arts to participate in the Tout-Monde Festival, first Caribbean Contemporary Arts Festival in Miami, Kenny Dunkan was the first artist to win the “Tout-Monde Award”  in recognition of emerging contemporary Caribbean artists. It is in the presence of the festival Ambassador, Christiane Taubira, the Consul Général of France, Clément Leclerc, and the two curators of the festival, Claire Tancons and Johanna Auguiac, that the Jury rewarded the work of Kenny Dunkan by a one month art residency at Fountainhead in Miami.

The contemporary artist and performer Kenny Dunkan finds his inspiration in his childhood experiences of the Guadeloupean carnival. The carnival aesthetics, bright colors, accumulation of eclectic objects to create a mask, influence his own aesthetic.  More specifically, the messages he tries to express are inspired by the three key stages that unfold within the carnival procession and which expresses the research of Guadeloupean identity. As explained by Stéphanie Mulot in her article “la trace des masques” (the track of masks), the carnival is composed of three stages, all of them expressing a different perception of the Guadeloupean identity. The first one is purely esthetic, made for tourists; it is composed of beautiful costumes usually unlinked to the Guadeloupean culture. The second stage is a folkloric show, made to present a watered-down version of reality. The third and last stage symbolizes the resistance against colonialism by claiming the heritance of a realistic past marked by slavery.      
As the Guadeloupean Carnival, Kenny Dunkan’s art represents this plural identity, a concept central to the Tout-Monde Festival in which he participated in this year and won an award.

On the occasion of the Tout-Monde Festival, Kenny Dunkan did a performance entitled “Back to Basics” at The Wolfsonian-FIU - an illustration of a text, written in the colonial era, on the cultural practices of Guadeloupean indigenous, in which they covered their bodies with oil to make their skin appear darker. By reading this text, Kenny Dunkan made the connection with his own ritual of covering his body with moisturizing cream every morning. He decided to link these two rituals in one performance, not only to illustrate the past but also to criticize the present. Instead of making his skin appear darker, he used moisturizer to make it appear whiter, as a way to show the duality he is living today feeling half “black man” and half “white man”. In a post-colonial society, where white skin and its attributes were synonymous of wealth and freedom, Kenny’s education did everything to erase his origins - obliging him to cut his hair short or forbidding him to speak Creole. He received a European education at school that taught him the history of France rather than the history of his Caribbean ancestors.  As a consequence Kenny Dunkan grew up missing a part of his Caribbean black identity that he is trying to regain today through his performances.

If the performance itself is a ritual, where Kenny Dunkan goes into a state of trance to show his vulnerability to the world, the two artworks exhibited at the Wolfsonian-FIU until April 17th 2018 have the exact opposite purpose. “Figure #1” and “Protect me” are here to protect him and his vulnerability to the world’s violence. The two art pieces are made of thousands of small pieces of metals and plastic that one may call baubles, worthless objects manufactured industrially. Kenny Dunkan gives them a meaning and power by regrouping them in one unique object. With this process, Kenny creates what he calls ‘charms’ - objects charged in magic, able to protect him from the violence of the world against black people and able to help him break down boundaries built by the color of his skin. Those two artworks are not only a protection for him but also for his ancestors who crossed the ocean and lost their freedom. “The world lacks of dreams and magic”, said Kenny Dunkan, and that is what he creates with his work, a magic able to help him build his identity across time.

Kenny Dunkan’s work is widely influenced by Edouard Glissant’s concept of the “Tout-Monde”. His research of identity is characterized by the multiplicity of his ethnic background; an imbroglio he has to disentangle by himself today to understand who he is and who he is going to be.

More about Kenny Dunkan and Caribbean artists on www.tout-monde-festival.com