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Community arts organizer Shawn Dunwoody displays a new mural at the MAG

Shawn Dunwoody looking at his new mural, which depicts racial justice protests
Rachael Brown
Memorial Art Gallery
Artist Shawn Dunwoody views his painting, "Unfinished Business," which reflects on moments of social uprisings in Rochester, and is on loan to the Memorial Art Gallery through August.

A new, massive painting by artist and community arts organizer Shawn Dunwoody is on display in the first-floor Cameros Gallery at the Memorial Art Gallery.

Departing from his usual brightly-hued and uplifting murals, the new four-panel piece, titled “Unfinished Business,” is stark and serious in tone. Energetic, black brushstrokes illustrate scenes drawn from photos from Rochester’s civil rights uprisings in 1964 and 2020. Those scenes flank a central self-portrait of Dunwoody painting his all-caps “ENOUGH” mural on Scio Street in 2020. Back then, Dunwoody tweeted a photo of it with the comment: “400+ years have been enough. Hopefully some can start to see the truth #blacklivesmatter.”

“It's really just trying to find those moments to tell the story of the same shit that's still going on,” Dunwoody says of his new work. “Nothing's really changed.”

Completed in the early months of 2021, “Unfinished Business” is a reflection on the death of Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester police, and the unrest that erupted when the details of his death came to light. The painting was originally displayed as part of “Black Lives Matter, a Sanctuary for Daniel Prude” at The Black House, where MAG Director Jonathan Binstock saw it in May. He recommended that MAG curators take a look at the work.

“Unfinished Business” shares the room with a portrait of the city’s namesake and slave owner, Nathaniel Rochester, the maquette for contemporary artist Alison Saar’s “Swing Low” sculpture of Harriett Tubman, and early paintings of the Genesee Valley region.

Jessica Marten, the museum’s curator of American art, says placing the work amid the collections of 19th-century American art made sense because it depicts Rochester’s history. ,

“This is an historic moment that he's captured,” she says. “And it was his intention to look back at 1964 and at 2020, and reflect on what's the same, what hasn't changed over that time.”

“Unfinished Business” will remain on view at the MAG through August.

Arts writer Rebecca Rafferty joined CITY as an arts reporter in 2008 and served as the arts editor from 2017 to 2021. She is co-producer of the art/WORK video series.