Symbolism of the Shadow: On Jessie Dunahoo's Art as Canopy to our World
By Jerry Duncan
The etymology of the word canopy is derived from Greek and Latin origins referring to, konopeion, or mosquito net. Metaphorically the root origin, KaNahPH, which is found in Hebrew translations of the Bible, describes being protected by the wing of a bird. Psalm 17:8 reads, “hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me”, and the symbolism of a shadow is interpreted differently in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The difference pertains to our association with life existing above ground and death residing below ground.
The layers of the physical world—underground, terrain, and hemisphere—are symbolically represented as canopies of our social environment as well as our personal predicament. Socially, the person without inclusion resides underground and shares the canopy of the dead who are immobilized; the person within a group shares the canopy of the living and maintains a mobile existence above ground. From a personal perspective inclusion may result in unwanted exposure leaving the individual defenseless without the ability to go underground; in this case he needs protection from above—hence the wing of the bird metaphor. Conversely exclusion gives the individual the advantage of anonymity because he lives in the land of the dead but he still longs for the canopy of the living.
Conventional representations exist within the empirical study of human behavior. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a behavioral model for interpreting the motivations of human labor (Figure 1). Ideally the individual moves upward from a basic fundamental need for physiological survival to that of safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Each level asserts a new horizon—a new canopy—allowing a person to share new experiences.
Essentially this is Jessie’s passion—to be included in the land of the living and to be recognized as someone pursuing a higher ground. Those who have limited cognitive communication abilities must find a way to communicate and share their own achievements. All of us share this difficulty because the phenomenon of social consciousness is abstract and exclusionary to some degree.
That is the beauty of art—it represents something unique and yet shared by all; it illustrates a mastery of shape and form, aesthetic dimensionality, and thematic significance; it originates in the heart and is manufactured as a canopy of sorts—to be totally inclusive; to be shared by all.
Jessie Dunahoo’s labor-intensive patchworks made from plastic bags—individually flattened and stitched together with only the cognitive senses of touch and smell—are abstract representations of our social canopy. It is within the dimension of our shared social consciousness that Jessie weaves his craft communicating his desire to share our journey toward self-actualization in life.