“When people think of enslavement often art is the last thing on anyone’s mind,” declares Kimathi Donkor. He refuses to shy away from the stark reality that the “profits of slave trading and slavery resulted in money spent commissioning art works that ended up on walls.” This article comes to grips with Donkor as a politically radical and aesthetically experimental painter and mixed-media assemblage artist by tracing the ways in which his hard-hitting subject matter comes to life across his UK Diaspora (2007) series. Donkor is all too aware of the ways in which a history of transatlantic slavery provided the capital that galvanized white Western art systems of patronage, collection, and exhibition into existence. He represents black women, men, and children as the appropriate subjects of fine art at the same time that he remains dedicated to restoring the history of the transatlantic trade as fundamental to European art history. Black agency over and above white atrocity ultimately remains the defining feature of his oeuvre. Donkor does justice to missing histories of African diasporic radicalism and resistance by extrapolating the lived realities of black subjects, enslaved and free, who were themselves engaged in acts and arts of social, political, and artistic liberation.
Celeste-Marie Bernier; Tracing Transatlantic Slavery: In Kimathi Donkor’s UK Diaspora. Nka 1 November 2017; 2017 (41): 108–124. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-4271674
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