Chris Spring, former curator of the British Museum, Africa Galleries writes:
"I began to get to know the work of Kimathi Donkor during his 2012 exhibition Queens of the Undead and at the same time to appreciate the keen intellect and the vibrant sense of history - global history - which had gone into these remarkable paintings. I was among a pitiful few in white British society to have known a little about Queen Njinga Mbandi, Harriet Tubman, Nanny of the Maroons and Yaa Asantewaa, but to see their remarkable lives so vividly brought to life in such original and striking imagery was an amazing and exhilarating experience. I was aware of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Stephen Lawrence, Joy Gardner and of Jean Charles de Menezes. Yet to see these events and their repercussions portrayed so vividly and viscerally in Donkor's paintings in the upstairs gallery at INIVA brought back the powerful sense of shame and outrage which they had originally provoked. The fact that Donkor used well known works from the European and Western canon as templates for these paintings increased the sense of unease that they produced.
Following the success of Queens of the Undead, Donkor began to rethink his relationship with photography and observational drawing in a series of works which spring entirely from his own memories and imagination, yet follow strict conventions of composition and materials. 'What I wanted to do from around 2013 was, I suppose, reskill myself. I wanted to concentrate more on that drawing phase and reduce my dependency on machine imagery. I wanted to focus more on the power of my imagination...'
At first glance the fashionable, professional women of African heritage portrayed in these lovely drawings could only be part of early 21st century metropolitan society. Some smiling, others frowning in concentration, all are engrossed in their laptops, tablets or mobile phones - you might almost say that a theme of these drawings is dependency on machine imagery, yet portrayed in a tender, loving and humorous vein.
The women Donkor has conjured from his imagination are diverse, both in terms of age, skin tone, dress and coiffure, yet they are all portrayed in profile and, as Donkor notes, 'Specific rules regulate each work:
clothes are outlined in graphic without shading; sparse pen and ink delineate a few features; the perspective implies distance and the body is never cropped.' These are not the powerful women of African heritage portrayed in Donkor's Black History Painting - or are they? For all we know they may be engaged in writing the defining novel or play of the 21st century as they bend over their laptops, or perhaps chatting with the young prince of some European royal family on their mobiles. Yet these drawings also act as a tribute to the wonderful draughtsmanship of Africa's artists from the deep past. In describing the inspiration behind the style of the Notebook drawings, Donkor cites his longstanding fascination with idyllic scenes in the arts of ancient Egypt, particularly from the kingdoms of Kush and Kemet. I see exactly what he means, but I also feel a strong connection between these drawings and the rock paintings and incised carvings of southern Africa's first peoples. Although many thousands of years separate them, I can't help but feel a bond between the artist of the so-called 'White Lady of the Brandberg' (actually a male hunter) in Namibia and the artist who created the brilliant Notebook xxx 2018 in which a tall, elegant young woman strides purposefully down the street in pursuit of some important engagement, her mobile held in front of her, perhaps talking with a friend, a colleague, a lover...
This sense of history past and future also informs the two additional 2018 drawings Flight into Egypt andReturn from Egypt in which a man and a woman are portrayed in full face, gazing down, not at a laptop or a mobile phone, but at the tiny baby cradled in their arms. As Donkor suggests, these two drawings return to some of the 'archetypes of presence, performance and narrative allusion' found in the superb Black History Paintings for which he is best known. There is a lovely, tender acknowledgement that the man and woman have between them created the greatest, most mysterious, and extraordinary achievement of their lives to date."
Kimathi Donkor lives and works in London. His solo exhibitions include Some Clarity of Vision at Gallery MOMO (Johannesburg, 2015), Queens of the Undead at Iniva (London, 2012) and Fall/Uprising at the Bettie Morton Gallery, (London, 2005). Group exhibitions include the Diaspora Pavilion (57th Venice Biennale, 2017), Untitled: Art on the Conditions of Our Time at the New Art Exchange (Nottingham, 2017) and the 29th Sao Paulo Biennal (Brazil, 2010). He has been the recipient of awards, residencies and commissions including the 2011 Derek Hill painting Scholarship for The British School at Rome.
Born in Bournemouth, England, Dr Donkor earned his PhD at Chelsea College of Arts in 2016. He also holds an MA degree from Camberwell College of Art and a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College. He is of Ghanaian, Anglo-Jewish and Jamaican family heritage, and as a child lived in rural Zambia and the English westcountry.
Kimathi Donkor’s work is in private and public collections internationally and in the UK, including The British Museum, The Wolverhampton Art Gallery, The International Slavery Museum and the Sindika Dokolo Foundation and The Robert Devereux Collection.