Kimathi Donkor was born in Bournemouth, England in 1965. He received his B.A. in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, London and a Master’s degree in Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts.
Donkor is a history painter for the post-modern age who sees himself as building upon the narrative, portraiture legacies of Benin and Ife art. His ravishingly rendered figurative works are often complex conundrums designed to reveal the hidden histories of Africa and its Diaspora. His paintings, whilst referencing key works from the Western canon, also create new interpretations and imaginary spaces that envisage compelling individuals from both recent and more distant history.
Donkor’s history paintings have “confidently tackled key, dramatic, monumental moments of African diaspora history… with a painterly preciseness that bordered on aesthetic frugality”, according to Eddie Chambers writing in Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s. Queens of the Undead, an important series of paintings depict historic, female, military commanders from Africa and the African Diaspora – but with contemporary Londoners as models. Donkor’s work also challenges “institutional racism”. With works like Helping With Enquiries: 1984, from his solo exhibition Fall/Uprising, which addressed controversies regarding the police.
Caroline Menezes, writing in Studio International, has suggested that Donkor’s work, “articulates a hidden history, tales of the past and chronicles of suppressed voices” with figures such as Nanny of the Maroons, Njinga Mbandi, Harriet Tubman, Joy Gardner, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean Charles de Menezes and Cherry Groce, among the subjects addressed. Writing about his 2013 London solo show, Daddy, I Want to be a Black Artist’, historian Yvette Greslé, proposed Donkor as “one of the most significant figurative painters, of his generation, working in the United Kingdom today”
Kimathi Donkor, in an interview with Caroline Menezes of Studio International, 2012. “…many people are very glad to be able to see art that has a strong social and ethical awareness. I respect the viewer who goes to the gallery and wants to experience something that is uplifting or disturbing, that engages them intellectually. I am not just trying to put them into a dreamlike reverie. If you look at my paintings, they have got a very complex psychological and even spiritual element. I don’t think of them as being easy to read, they are difficult images, in a sort of surrealist sense.”
Donkor’s works have been featured at London’s Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva), as well as in Brazil’s 29th São Paulo Biennial in 2010.In 2011, he received the Derek Hill Foundation Scholarship award for the British School at Rome.