Tina Maria Dunkley is an artist, curator, and Director Emerita of the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Dunkley’s career has embraced the art and experience of the African Diaspora from perspectives that range from the academic to the autobiographical. Born in New York of a Trinidadian mother and Jamaican father, Dunkley received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and a Master of Arts in African American Studies at Atlanta University. In 1984, her residency as a Faculty Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art involved her in extensive research for the national touring exhibition and catalogue Sharing Traditions: Five Black Artists in 19th Century America. From 1994 to 1996, she was program manager for African American Culture: An American Experience a multidisciplinary program of the Cultural Olympiad of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
Dunkley’s ongoing interaction with African Diaspora cultures in Brazil began with a 1991–1993 Kellogg Fellowship in International Development and continued with a 2001 travel grant from Georgia-Pernambuco Partners of the Americas. These experiences found their way into Dunkley’s own artworks, which included works on Afro-Brazilian history, which she would later discover echoed the culturally freighted aspects of her own family’s identity.
Dunkley’s exhibition record as a visual artist, combined with her career as curator and scholar, gained her the Governor’s Award for Women in the Visual Arts in 1997, and the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Dunkley’s interaction and research into African Diaspora communities in South America and the Caribbean, from the Maroons of Jamaica to the Quilambolas of Brazil, have led to the discovery of her own ancestral heritage in the Merikins.
All of these endeavors laid the groundwork for Dunkley’s life-altering experience in 2008, when she returned to Trinidad as an adult and discovered that her Great-grandmother, Phoebe Loney, was a descendant of Colonial Marine Sergeant Ezekiel Loney of the 4th Company of the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812. After contacting lead genealogist John Weiss, she promptly set out to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and London, followed by the archives at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. At these sites Tina saw her ancestors’ names on numerous ships’ musters, a letter describing her ancestors’ escape from a plantation, and on a reparation claim from the plantation owner to the British. She eventually assembled her family on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, where the British trained the Colonial Marines. These revelations eventually brought her into contact with family and leaders of the Merikin community in South Trinidad, (Augustus Lewis, Akilah Jaramogi, Curwin Callendar and Marva Sandy), as well as the U.S. Embassy, which learned of the Colonial Marine descendants through a grant that Dunkley submitted to conduct research in the Company Villages with the objective of encouraging cultural conservation and producing an exhibition.
As a result of this information being shared with the U.S. Embassy, an introductory documentary on the Merikins was marshaled by Ambassador Beatrice Welters followed by Dunkley’s recently published book for middle-school, The Merikins: Forgotten Freedom Fighters in the War of 1812. During Tina’s most recent sojourn to the Company Villages in August of this year at the behest of the U.S. Embassy, she video-recorded ten members of the Company Villages, who provided a wealth of oral history, and which will be deposited with the National Archives of Trinidad/Tobago, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Dunkley continues working toward a solo multimedia exhibition that conveys her genealogical odyssey in paintings, prints, film, textiles, installations, assemblages, and catalog.
Lessons from the Show
Tina talked to us about her life and her art and offered us many wonderful lessons that point us towards an authentic, happy and fulfilling life and career including:
- Tina grew up in a house where people were always making things and shares what a wonderful experience this is; and it’s never to late to start making things;
- It’s a wonderful experience to tell your story and to listen to others telling theirs. Story connects us with ourselves, with each other, and with our creative urges;
- Like our lives, art needs to be physical; avoid our modern tendency to stay in the mind and get out there and do – or make! – things!
You can contact Tina by email at email@example.com and you can find out more about his/her businesses at www.tinadunkley.com.
This is episode # 132