Black goddesses, heroines, queens and saints have provided the inspiration for many of Kimathi Donkor’s paintings. And, after researching how these subjects have been depicted in literature and art, he has invited contemporary, black women from Africa and its Diasporas to model for scenes that re-imagine the adventures, encounters and spirit of their celebrated forebears.
Donkor intends his realistic portraits to convey the beauty and grace of his models – as well as the strength and grandeur of the historical characters which they embody. Consequently, much of his practice is devoted to crafting meticulously the faces, gestures and expressions of those figures which populate his images.
Each work contemplates a single moment drawn from an epic narrative, but Donkor plays freely with the constraints of time and location, frequently displacing his figures into a contemporary, 21st century context. Thus, in one recent, monumental painting – which, the artist made entirely in South Africa – the biblical, black wife of the prophet Moses seems to anticipate happily her impending exodus to the promised land – while the grim towers of the infamous Marikana mine stand ominously on the golden horizon behind her.
Such compelling fusions of symbolism, portraiture, landscape and appropriation have produced a unique approach to painting that is simultaneously celebratory but provocative, as well as being visually accessible and intellectually stimulating.