Zombie Jamboree

Copied Keith Morrison, Zombie Jamboree, 1988, oil on canvas, 6269 316 in. (157.5175.7 cm.) , Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Catherine Walden Myer Fund and the Director’s Discretionary Fund, 1990.76

Artwork Details

Zombie Jamboree
Not on view
6269 316 in. (157.5175.7 cm.) 
Credit Line
Museum purchase through the Catherine Walden Myer Fund and the Director’s Discretionary Fund
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Landscape — tropic
  • Animal
  • Figure group
Object Number

Artwork Description

For Zombie Jamboree, Morrison drew on a personal lexicon of myths and images. Both sacred and secular, it derives simultaneously from the memory of the death of a childhood friend and the artist’s encounter with Christianity and vodun, a religion traditional to his native Jamaica. The large central figures are fantastical animals. A spotted hyena-like creature with bared teeth that sparks an impression of evil and greed confronts a protective horse, while a hissing snake, the Christian symbol of sin, hovers above. Dotted around this improbable cast of characters are Christian crosses, dancing skeletons, and two black figures, one wearing a mask the other with arms raised, suggesting African rituals.

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, 2012
Luce Center Label

In Zombie Jamboree, Keith Morrison combines imagery taken from both African and European sources. The strange creatures in the foreground recall stories of voodoo rituals that the artist heard while growing up in Jamaica. Many of these tales involved creatures or spirits rising from the water, and here a floating figure eerily emerges from the pond behind the animals. The fantastical ghosts dancing in the background were inspired by Benjamin Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw, and the floating figure conjures the tragic character of Shakespeare's Ophelia. Zombie Jamboree contains many symbols of birth, death, and resurrection, themes that recur in much of Morrison's work.

Luce Object Quote
"I wrestle with ideological tensions between African and European values in my work (as I do as a person)." The artist, quoted in Keith Morrison: Recent Painting, March 10-April 28, 1990, Alternative Museum, New York City