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Torkwase Dyson, a painter whose explorations of visibility, environment, science, and migration have particular resonance at this moment in history, is the fall 2018 visiting artist at the Lunder Institute for American Art. She is also showing a new body of site-specific work in the exhibition Nautical Dusk, on view through Jan. 6, 2019, at the Colby College Museum of Art. During her Lunder Institute tenure, Dyson will lead a series of dialogues, performances, and lectures, including a public convening on Nov. 7 that will highlight her collaborations with Colby students and faculty.

The artist Torkwase Dyson with installation Nautical Dusk, 2018. Photo by Gabe Souza courtesy of the Colby Museum of Art.

“We are so fortunate to welcome Torkwase Dyson to campus and to benefit from her thoroughly interdisciplinary, inquisitive approach to her work,” said Lee Glazer, director of the Lunder Institute. “She has developed a distinctive language of geometric abstraction through a wide-ranging investigation of space, architecture, history, and scientific discourse, and we are looking forward to the many interactions she will have with our community.”

At the invitation of the Museum, the New Jersey-based artist consulted archival materials related to Samuel Osborne (c. 1833–1904) in Colby’s Miller Library. Osborne was born into slavery and migrated from Virginia to Maine in 1865. He worked for the College for more than 30 years, and in 2017 Colby President David A. Greene renamed the presidential residence “Osborne House.”

“A notable aspect of Dyson’s practice is embedded in the many ways of considering mobility, space, and geographic conditions through the language of abstraction,” said Daisy Desrosiers, director of programs at the Lunder Institute. “The possibilities of encounters through the institute have provided, for the artist, a space to question how we position ourselves in regards to archival material and how we respond to it as part of an ongoing process of observation.”

As a Lunder Institute visiting artist, Dyson is investigating materials in Miller Library’s Special Collections, engaging with Colby faculty and students, and developing new collaborative projects. “I extrapolate from those things to ask phenomenological questions around geography, proximity, transference, clarity, seeing, belonging,” said Dyson. This hybrid platform, which combines research with ongoing reflection and conversation, provides time for the artist to explore intersections with scholars from multiple disciplines.

Dyson is on campus from Oct. 31 through Nov. 7, when she will record a series of dialogues with Colby faculty from several different departments, including astronomy and creative writing. A suite of programs in the Museum lobby from 1:30 to 5 p.m. on Nov. 7, organized by the Lunder Institute, will include poetry by Colby students and performances by invited guests, including Dyson’s collaborator, artist Zachary Fabri, and visually scored by Andres L. Hernandez. Dyson, Fabri, and Hernandez comprise the performance collective F/H/D. The afternoon will conclude with an open conversation with the artist, in which Dyson will reflect on Nautical Dusk and the subsequent encounters and discoveries it has generated.

In Nautical Dusk, Dyson’s geometric forms are infused with metaphorical associations found in obituaries of Osborne. Written by unnamed white authors, these texts raise questions about authorship, transmission, and self-determination. Curated by Diana Tuite, Katz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nautical Dusk features sculptures and paintings that explore these subjects. Dusk, a monumental ramp that visitors are welcome to engage with in a variety of ways, occupies half of the gallery.

In 2017-18, its inaugural year, the Lunder Institute hosted artist Theaster Gates and poet Richard Blanco as its first visiting artists.

About Torkwase Dyson

Torkwase Dyson was born in Chicago, Ill., and spent her developmental years between North Carolina and Mississippi. Traversing these regions helped develop a fundamental dialectic of architecture/infrastructure, geography, and Black spatial liberation. During her years at Tougaloo College, where she majored in sociology and double minored in social work and fine art, she began to examine the poetics of Black history and environmental justice. Over the next 10 years, Dyson traveled to locally and globally strategize with communities of color on ways to attain resource equality. During this time she earned her bachelor’s in fine arts in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University and her master’s in fine arts in painting from Yale School of Art. In 2016 Dyson designed and built Studio South Zero (SSZ), a solar-powered mobile studio where the context of nomadicity became the framework for learning and making art about the environment. It was traveling with SSZ that inspired her experimental project the Wynter-Wells Drawing School for Environmental Liberation, where she explores contemporary theorizations of form, space, architecture, and the infrastructure of extraction economies.

Though working through multiple mediums, Dyson describes herself as a painter who uses distilled geometric abstraction to create an idiosyncratic language that is both diagrammatic and expressive. The works are deconstructions of natural and built environments that consider how individuals negotiate and negate various types of systems and spatial order.

Dyson’s work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Drawing Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Dyson has been awarded the Nancy Graves Grant for Visual Artists, Visiting Artist grant to the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, the Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practices, Eyebeam Art and Technology Center Fellowship, and the FSP/Jerome Fellowship. Dyson’s work has also been supported by Lower Manhattan Cultural Center, the Laundromat Projects, the Green Festival of New York, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, The Kitchen, and the Rebuild Foundation.

In 2016 Dyson was elected to the board of the Architecture League of New York as vice president of visual arts and is currently visiting critic at Yale School of Art. She is represented by Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago and Davidson Contemporary in New York.

About the Lunder Institute for American Art

The Lunder Institute for American Art, established in 2017 through the generosity of Peter and Paula Lunder, supports innovative research, critical inquiry, and creative production aimed at expanding the boundaries of American art and its interpretive communities. Uniquely positioned within an academic museum on a liberal arts campus in Central Maine, the Lunder Institute offers opportunities for visiting artists and scholars to reflect, convene, and work with the Colby community across disciplinary boundaries to ask challenging questions, test new ideas, and produce work that is original, illuminating, and generative.