North Carolina-based artist Marcus Dunn explores the history of boarding schools used to assimilate Native American children in a series of paintings in “Re/educated,” a new exhibit at the Florence County Museum Waters Gallery.
His works will be on exhibit in the Waters Gallery through Dec. 2. The gallery, 135 S. Dargan St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States and Canadian governments operated a network of “boarding schools” for the cultural assimilation of Native American children.
Until recently the history of these schools remained largely unacknowledged. It wasn’t until 2021 when the potential discovery of a mass unmarked gravesite for Native children was found on former boarding school property in British Columbia that the issue gained serious attention.
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The exhibit is composed of 26 works, most of which were created this year. Some of the paintings are derived from archival photographs, while others combine real and imagined imagery to create new compositions.
“Whether the images are of real people in imagined places, or imagined people in real spaces, the purpose and effect is documentary,” Museum Curator Stephen W. Motte said. “These are powerful and thoughtful artistic interpretations of an unfortunate history.”
These schools were organized by the government, but mostly administrated by Christian churches, who considered Native culture to be sacrilegious. As a result, Native languages, traditional dress, customs, and symbols were banned from use on school grounds. The schools then became re-education camps.
Dunn’s images depict Native children in moments of isolation and apprehension.
One boy fixes his necktie with a vacant stare; a girl drops her books in the hallway; another, alone in her room, removes the beads from her necklace. In many of the works, the students have their backs turned to viewer, their identities unknown.
“You can feel the displacement in these paintings,” Motte said. “They succeed as artworks because they put the viewer in the subjects’ place, allowing you to feel what they feel.”
Dunn descends from Tuscarora and Pee Dee tribal heritage. He earned his master’s of fine arts in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design and teaches at Richmond Community College and at University of North Carolina, Pembroke.