Kimathi Donkor

For his exhibition at DKUK, Kimathi Donkor presents Idyll: an ongoing series of paintings. The paintings present calm and leisurely everyday scenes that are shared between individuals situated within serene and boundless landscapes. Fondly remembered moments or hopeful instances of the imagination at work, they are both comforting and unexpected in today’s turbulent times and fitting for the intimate experience of care within the hair salon. Behind these calm surfaces lies a breadth of research, in particular, the idyllic scenes created by the Ancient Egyptians, as encountered by Kimathi during visits to the Nile Valley, the Louvre and the British Museum. This process of research, encounter and remembering is filtered through the artist’s own lived experience and personal identity but its ambitions are expansive. With titles acting as pointers towards mythic encounters and religious figures, each painting confidently tells its own story and takes you on a journey as you momentarily sit still for your appointment.

Kimathi Donkor’s work draws upon fragmented and diverse histories in order to explore issues of personal identity, particularly that of the global African diaspora. His work is filtered through his own life experiences and identities: being of Ghanaian, Anglo-Jewish and Jamaican family heritage and spending time as a child in both Zambia and the west of England has afforded him a rich and vast trajectory to draw upon. But more than simply autobiography, Kimathi’s work is both heavily researched and intensely visual and evocative; imbued with power and emotion. Using the traditions of painting allows Kimathi to reimagine and curate assumed histories, weaving in memories and dreams that point these histories towards the present.

Working predominantly with painting, his work often references historical figures, for example a work from 2004 – Toussaint L’Overture at Bedourete – depicting Toussaint L’Overture, the revolutionary leader of a Caribbean slave revolt, on a horse, leading the fight for freedom. L’Overture was the man who helped transform Haiti’s slave rebellion into a revolutionary moment and the image depicted is a proud assertion of Black history. Donkor’s PhD project, Africana Unmasked (completed in 2016) explored the fugitive signs of Africa that are held within the Tate’s British Collection, asking questions of African Diaspora and the Western canon. This ambitious project exemplifies the focus and breadth of Kimathi’s engagement with histories and their relationship to individual and collective experiences of everyday life in the present.

Kimathi Donkor’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the UK and around the world. He is of Ghanaian, Anglo-Jewish and Jamaican family heritage and, having been fostered and adopted as a child, was homeless when he migrated to London in his teens. He went on to attain his BA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, his MA in Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts and his PhD at Chelsea College of Arts. Since 2019 he has been course leader of the BA in Fine Art: Painting at Camberwell College of Arts.