Dusti Bongé introduces us to a ‘shoofly’

I’ve lived across the Deep South for more than 30 years, but I learned a new Southern expression this week thanks to Mississippi native Dusti Bongé and our artworks this week in collaboration with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi: shoofly.

I’ll let Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer explain.

Dusti Bongé, United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company Yearbook – September 11, 13, 15, c 1940. Pencil on paper, 8” x 5”

Work from yet another one of Dusti Bongeé’s the repurposed “yearbooks.” This datebook is from a different company, the United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company, and it is filled with almost 150 sketches of Dusti Bongé’s early period.

These works show that Dusti had already significantly developed her own graphic representational style, both in her cubist inspired city scenes and her surrealist figures, compared to earlier sketchbooks.

Dusti Bongé, United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company Yearbook - September 13, 1940.
Dusti Bongé, United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company Yearbook – September 13, 1940. Courtesy Dusti Bongé Art Foundation.

This set of three sketches, for what was subsequently to become a painting, are a perfect example of how Dusti worked – quick gestures capturing her immediate visual experience. Her mark making is never labored, instead she draws the same subject matter over and over, until she finds the right gestures, with the right energy, to express her unique perceptive imagination.

All three sketches are of the quintessentially southern structure known as the shoofly. The shoofly is usually a hexagonal or octagonal elevated deck built around a tree, where one can hang out above ground, under the cool canopy of the encircled tree, and literally above the level where flies and sundry insects may bug you.

Dusti’s sketches capture the faceted nature of the structure in her typical cubist way, while the squiggly lines suggest the foliage of the sheltering tree. But Dusti is also playful with the title of this work. She titled the painting, Subrosa, literally “under the rose,” a term used throughout history as connoting the secrecy promised of things divulged under the sign of the rose.

Thus, Dusti here hints at the inherent privacy that is provided by the shoofly, a public spot lifted above ground just high enough to offer a private moment.

Dusti Bongé, United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company Yearbook - September 15, 1940.
Dusti Bongé, United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company Yearbook – September 15, 1940. Courtesy Dusti Bongé Art Foundation.

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