Kimathi Donkor: Queens of the Undead, Iniva, London

Kimathi Donkor’s new exhibition Queens of the Undead, will be unveiled at Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) at Rivington Place from 13 September until 24 November. A presentation of a series of new commissions by the artist celebrating heroic black women from history, alongside selected earlier works, involving dramatic large-scale paintings expressing pathos, wrath, devotion and irony.

Donkor’s work is constructed through extensive research both into history and the ideologically loaded genres of Western oil painting. The artist explores portraiture, narrative and art historical themes in his paintings, creating a body of work often conceived in dialogue with other artists from David and Velazquez, to Sargent and Bowling. This will be the first complete exhibition of painting to date at Rivington Place.

Queens of the Undead is a series of six works exploring the possibilities of figurative painting through the filters of history, legend and myth. Each painting is at once a contemporary portrait, an exploration of art history and an evocation of an historic female commander / royal figurehead from Africa or its Diasporas, celebrated for their place in liberation struggles.

The works are dedicated to the life of Queen Njinga Mbandi who led her armies against the Portuguese empire in Angola; Harriet Tubman, the underground-railroad leader who freed 70 people from U.S. slavery in the 1850s; Queen Nanny who led the Maroon guerillas that fought the British in 1700s Jamaica; and in what is now Ghana, the 20th Century anti-colonial commander-in-chief, Yaa Asantewaa.

Queens of the Undead, Kimathi Donkor, 13 September until 24 November, Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), Rivington Place, London, EC2A 3BA.

Credits: When shall we 3? (Scenes from the life of Njinga Mbandi), 2010. Copyright Kimathi Donkor.