Kimathi Donkor


Kimathi Donkor (b.Bournemouth, UK, 1965) makes work that re-imagines mythic, legendary and domestic encounters across Africa and its global diasporas. He primarily works in painting and addresses both the way western canonical art has erased black subjectivity as well as the way western history has written out black historical figures such as Toussaint L'Ouverture and Harriet Tubman.


Donkor became aware of these figures whilst studying at Goldsmiths University in the 1980s in part because of his own family connections to Jamaican, Nigeria and Ghana. He became particularly interested in the way that the British education system at the time refused (and arguably still refuses) to give these figures their historical dues, or talk about the roles of colonialism, slavery, oppression and empire that is central to British history.


Donkor subsequently became involved in a number of community initiatives in Brixton, the main site of the uprisings by the Black British community against state and police injustices in the 1980s. This experience of working in the community fed into a number of later works that focused on police brutality against members of the Black British community such as Cynthia Jarrett and Cherry Groce. Donkor also developed a number of paintings that retrieved black historical figures. In all these works Donkor references and plays with the style of western canonical history paintings, in order to re-insert the erased black figure back into one the most recognisable canonical visual idioms. These works can be seen as not simply retrieving black historical figures, or remembering black victims of police and societal brutality but also an act of actively differencing the art historical canon.


In recent years Donkor’s work has been exhibition in group exhibitions such as ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’, Sharjah Biennial 15 (Sharjah, 2023); ‘War Inna Babylon: The Community's Struggle for Truth and Rights', ICA (London, 2021); ’'Untitled: Art on the Conditions of Our Time', Kettle's Yard (Cambridge, 2021) and New Art Exchange (Nottingham, 2017), Diaspora Pavilion: Venice to Wolverhampton, 57th Venice Biennale (Venice, 2017) and 29th Sao Paulo Biennial (Brazil, 2010).