Kenny Dunkan — Keep Going!


Installation, performance, photography, sculpture...

Kenny Dunkan
Keep Going!

Past: March 6 → May 22, 2021

Les filles du calvaire is delighted to announce Kenny Dunkan’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. A former resident of the Villa Medici, Dunkan envisions Keep Going! as an initiatory journey teeming with images, sculptures and videos. Drawing from Caribbean culture, fashion and design, he develops a performative and hybrid work that questions colonial heritage and fragmented identity.

Cartography of the Intimate by Simon Njami (writer, narrator, essayist) :

Despite a layout that appears chaotic, bringing together fragments that constitute so many elements of a very carefully staged puzzle, intimacy is indeed what is at play here. The exhibition’s theatricality is there to surprise, destabilise, disorient. The artist moreover endorses chaos and assumes its reality by quoting Édouard Glissant: “Chaos is beautiful when one understands that all its elements are equally necessary.” But instead of following Glissant in the development he conceived of the cultures of the world, I will instead evoke the philosopher Henri Delacroix in his definition of language, which he describes as “one of the instruments that transform the chaotic world of sensations into a world of objects and representations”.

Kenny dunkan pay day 2019 1944x1100 1 medium
Kenny Dunkan, Pay Day, 2019 Courtesy Galerie Les filles du calvaire

Kenny Dunkan invites us to thus explore his own intimate chaos in the form of a kaleidoscopic mise en abime. Photographs like wallpaper, albums, visual notes cover the floor and the walls, like a treasure hunt, like the most immediate illustration of its fragmentation. It is the chaos of the world of sensations evoked by Delacroix whose intimate cartography the artist has wanted to draw, in two movements, as in music: memory and identity. Memory is the Caribbean, where he is from, Guadeloupe and, by extension, the entire New World. Memory cannot be detached from history, especially that of colonisation and slavery. A history marked by branding irons and that must be rewritten, reinvented, exorcised. But there is also, perhaps more vivid and more organic, perceptive memory. This set of ruins, to use the expression of Toshomé Gabriel, from which one endlessly rebuilds, in search of a new syncretism.

This syncretism, between fantasies and memories, falls strongly within the present and its actuality. References to Amerindian hammocks, sacred sculptures and a re-examined cosmogony, profane and sacred rites. A kind of very personal cabinet of curiosities in which each object contains a meaning and delivers a piece of the story told by the artist. The body is an essential element of this installation. Like a metaphor that would tell stories that words don’t know, as Henri-Pierre Jeudy says: “Images of the body do not concern the body as an isolated entity, they happen simultaneously as images of the world. And language only allows us to organise arbitrary classifications that will make the meaning of interpretation always hover near illusion.”

Kenny dunkan artist 1 medium
Kenny Dunkan, Heart, 2020, 2020 Courtesy Galerie Les filles du calvaire

Rather than being a victim of this famous illusion underlined by Jeudy, Dunkan prefers to use it to his advantage, especially in the mises en scène of his own body in a deliberate attempt to break down the preconceived ideas and sexualised visions of the black body. An attempt to deconstruct, to reject these clothes borrowed from history and from a form of contempt in order to exist according to one’s own rules and one’s own self-perception. Whoever mentions self-perception naturally speaks of identity. It would have been surprising if Dunkan did not give it the place it deserves. When he arrived in Paris to pursue his higher education, he probably experienced the same shock as James Baldwin did when he left Harlem: he saw himself as black, Guadeloupean, as well as provincial, no doubt.

By becoming aware of his strangeness, he also integrated the fact that he was not a fixed identity but that he carried within him the schizophrenia of his native island in an indivisible totality. By becoming aware of himself and the world around him, he became a see-er, in the words of Merleau-Ponty: “My body simultaneously sees and is seen. That which looks at all things can also look at itself and recognise in what it sees the ‘other side’ of its power of looking.”

The see-er made himself a mask, like the carnival character of his memories, made himself Janus by borrowing stage costumes that, while masking them, reveal his multiple identities. Playing on the curse of Cham, he amuses himself marking off purity and impurity on ironic and sensitive notes. As though these were simply two sides of a single reality.

Simon Njami

With the support of the National Center for Plastic Arts, Ministry of Culture and Communication.

  • Opening Saturday, March 6 at 3 PM
03 Le Marais Zoom in 03 Le Marais Zoom out

17, rue des Filles-du-calvaire

75003 Paris

T. 01 42 74 47 05 — F. 01 42 74 47 06

Filles du Calvaire

Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 6:30 PM
Please note that the gallery will observe its usual hours from May 11 to May 16, then from May 18 it will open Thursday — Saturday 11 AM to 6:30 PM

Venue schedule

The artist

  • Kenny Dunkan