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Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) at Rivington Place announces Kimathi Donkor Queens of the Undead

Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) at Rivington Place presents Kimathi Donkor Queens of the Undead on 13 September–24 November 2012.

Kimathi Donkor, When shall we 3? (Scenes from the life of Njinga Mbandi), 2010. Oil on linen, 160 x 105 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Kimathi Donkor’s solo exhibition at Rivington Place, including new works commissioned by Iniva, celebrates the lives of exemplary figures from African Diaspora history as well as those who have suffered at the hands of the authorities. Donkor’s paintings are unashamedly affirmative and political, recounting insurgencies against slavery and colonial rule as well as present day injustices. In terms of their medium and genre they are unusual in the context of current art—Donkor makes large scale figurative oil paintings which explore the genre of history painting and set this category to work in ways that undermine its underlying ideology.

Kimathi Donkor’s practice includes extensive research into both African Diaspora history and European art history. His work subverts traditional portraiture, as well as narrative and historical themes creating paintings that use details and compositional elements appropriated from artists such as Jacques Louis David, William Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The series Queens of the Undead (in PS1), from which the exhibition takes its title, comprises six works each dedicated to the life of an historic female figure from Africa or its diasporas, celebrated for their place in liberation struggles. These include Queen Njinga Mbandi who led her armies against the Portuguese in Angola; Harriet Tubman the underground railroad leader from the United States; Queen Nanny who led the Maroon guerrillas against the British in Jamaica; and Yaa Asantewaa who fought the British in what is now Ghana. A selection of earlier contemporary portraits depicts people caught up in conflict with the UK authorities and includes Cynthia Jarrett, Stephen Lawrence, Joy Gardner, Jean Charles de Menezes and the artist himself.

Donkor’s approach combines present day history painting with knowledge of its antecedents and traditions, creating a dynamic that links the contemporary with the past. The artist is aware that many of the references contained in the paintings will be unknown to audiences, unlike classical mythology which has been extensively used in European painting. Writers Carol Tulloch and David Dibosa’s contribution to the exhibition guide and text interventions in the exhibition provide a series of references for the viewer.

As Francisco de Goya or William Hogarth chronicled their times, so too does Donkor—employing his knowledge of them and other art historical examples as well as his skills as a painter and social commentator to equally subversive effects.

A dynamic programme of events runs alongside the exhibition including tours of the exhibition, film screening and talks. See for latest information.

Kimathi Donkor: Queens of the Undead is curated by Tessa Jackson OBE and Grant Watson of Iniva

Visitor information
Rivington Place opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 11am–6pm, Late Thursdays: 11am–9pm, Saturday: 12–6pm, closed Sundays and Mondays. Admission free. Nearest Tubes: Old Street/Liverpool Street/Shoreditch High St. For Rivington Place enquiries contact: T +44 (0)20 7749 1240 / [email protected] / /

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