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Kimathi Donkor - an exploration of African art

“I see a lot of beauty in African people - in Black people - and for me to be able to represent that, in what I see as a naturalistic way through painting, is so important,” said Dr Kimathi Donkor.

L-R: Notebook XXV & Return From Egypt © Dr Kimathi Donkor

Dr Donkor is a visual artist and academician whose work explores the mythical, legendary and everyday encounters of Africa and its diaspora, and he was speaking to AKADi Magazine at the launch of his most recent work - ‘The Notebooks Series’ in October 2021.


Dr Donkor was born in Bournemouth, England, to an Anglo-Jewish mother and Ghanaian father, but was raised by adopted parents who were from Jamaica and the UK.


His most recent 15-strong collection of work showcased during UK Black History Month 2021 at Brixton Library in south London. This work celebrates Black women from south London – where he is from – and is created using watercolour, ink and graphite on paper.

But he also creates works using videos, assemblage, collage, digital design, performance and installation.

those ancient West African traditions of naturalistic representation are important to me

Dr Donkor talked about the “deep impact” that ancient brass weights that were used in the Asante Kingdom to weigh gold dust, had on him.


“My understanding of certainly historical Ghanaian art came at a later stage in my life and has had quite as deep an impact on me,” he told AKADi Magazine. “I was very impressed when I first discovered the gold weights system. These beautiful often tiny objects which were highly detailed, intricate, naturalistic observational objects that had a very high status.”


AKADi Magazine editor Abena and Dr Kimathi Donkor © MisBeee Writes

“Because I am not really an abstract or expressionist artist, those ancient West African traditions of naturalistic representation are important to me. I am very interested in Ife and Benin cultures too - to the extent that my daughter is called Ife. I find that type of art very validating.”


Other African influences that have shaped Dr Donkor’s art has included learning about Tutankhamun as a child, and learning about Senegalese Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop as an undergraduate student.


“Cheikh Anta Diop was keen to challenge white supremacist notions of Egyptology and to reconnect, in historical as well as cultural and artistic terms, ancient Egyptian art to the rest of Africa,” Dr Donkor said.

Dr Kimathi Donkor with Lisa Anderson founder of the Black British Art platform © MisBeee Writes

“I see a lot of beauty in African people - in Black people - and for me to be able to represent that in what I see as a naturalistic way through painting is so important,” he said. “I felt like to bring that kind of vision to the life of the people was important at the time I started to make my paintings in the 2000s.”


In 2000, he took a pilgrimage to the Egyptian temples and sites, and how our ancient African ancestors depicted themselves, which he says was a catalyst to his re-emergence as an artist.


Dr Donkor earned his PhD at Chelsea College of Arts in 2016, and also holds an MA degree from Camberwell College of Art and a BA (Hons) in Fine Art in 2010, from Goldsmiths College in 1984.


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