African American artist Delano Dunn examines questions of racial identity in his work, which was heavily influenced by his upbringing in South Central Los Angeles. Dunn offers his Brief But Spectacular take on exploring the world through his art.
Judy Woodruff: Tonight’s Brief But Spectacular features artist Delano Dunn. His work explore questions of racial identity.
Delano Dunn: I grew up in Los Angeles, California, so South Central L.A., which is a block of about 24 neighborhoods.
When I was a young kid, the neighborhood was fantastic. You know, I would play outside on the streets with most of my friends. But, as I got older, got into my teens, things got rough. The riots happened. The gang wars sort of sparked, so it became a neighborhood where you couldn’t walk down the street. It became very rough.
Everything about the neighborhood that I grew up in, the friends that I had, the experiences of being a black student in a predominantly white high school and elementary school, all of those things come into the work.
My work is not happy work. It’s very difficult work. It’s very powerful work, I like to think. So I make stuff very colorful. I make it bright. I make it look like a piece of candy, so that you want to come up and unwrap it.
And when you do and you put it in your mouth, it tastes like salt.
As a kid, we didn’t talk much about the civil rights movement in the house. I was more interested in space, in space exploration. As I got older, I started to realize really what was probably more important to my life.
Protesters: Freedom, freedom, freedom.
Delano Dunn: And I started to want to have a reconciliation.
You’re taught in school that these two events are happening not at the same time, even though they actually are. And the goal was to build a new history that showed these two events happening concurrently, and these two groups of people working together to develop a cohesive idea of the American dream.
1961 is significant because, in my research, it was the first time I found these remarkable connections. So you have got Freedom Riders driving down on May 4 to desegregate interstate travel. And the next day, one of the Mercury astronauts goes up.
I remember sitting in the library at the time coming to that conclusion, and it just kind of blew my mind, that these things were happening within hours and days of each other.
Growing up and not really seeing any black astronauts, to have this opportunity to make a world where you have African-Americans and these astronauts working together, and blending the lines that maybe, you know, African-Americans were part of these Mercury missions, made me kind of giddy, and I decided to go see what I could do with it.
I grew up in a family that was mostly women. I was raised by my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother. And I wanted to make work that talked about the contribution that women have had in history, whether it be African-American civil rights movement, whether it be the space race.
My daughter’s name is Violet, and she’s 6. It’s a rough world out there, and particularly for women and particularly for women of color. And so when I make work, I think a lot about her. I make sure that I have images of women in the work and that these women are not seen through the male gaze and that they’re depicted in positions of power and strength.
And that is the main impact of the work these days, is her.
My name is Delano Dunn. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on exploring the world through my art.
Judy Woodruff: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.