By Zinta Jauntis, MA Illustration, Camberwell College of Arts
This DRAW event welcomed Dr Kimathi Donkor in his new role as MA Drawing Course Leader. He gave a whistle-stop tour of his 40-year practice, as well as some thoughts on how drawing is important to him. Donkor’s identity is integral to his subject matter; born in Bournemouth, he is of Ghanaian, Anglo-Jewish and Jamaican family heritage. At a young age he was interested in trying to capture accurately through drawing the fine details. He showed an example of drawing he did when he was 15-years old of his step brother, detailing his dark hair and skin tone. His work would take a considerable turn when he moved to London to study a BA in fine art Goldsmith.
He recalls his first night in London, ‘I was attacked by some Police officers who abducted me to their police station and assaulted me’. At that time the relationship between the black community and the police was strained. This experience with the police and an incident which happened not long after and not far from where he lived would begin to play out in his life’s work.
On the morning of 28 September 1985, a group of police officers raided Cherry Groce’s house on Normandy Road, Brixton, searching for her son who was a suspect for armed robbery. Mrs Groce was in bed, whilst three of her six children were in residence when the police entered the house with force. During the raid, Mrs Groce was shot in the chest; after an extensive search, the police did not find her son. This incident in turn led to an enormous public outrage, which sparked the Brixton 1985 riots.
With these experiences of policing in the London area, Donkor stopped making art and started campaigning and protesting about the injustices and brutality. But with encouragement from his fellow campaigners he began to channel his experiences into his work. His most notable piece, which he revisits again and again throughout his life is the shooting of Mrs Cherry Groce.
Donkor has a reputation for appropriating from the European cannon. Art history and historical paintings are integral to his work. In The shooting of Mrs Cherry Groce Donkor ‘riffs’ off several paintings, including Edouard Manet’s, ‘The Execution of Maximillian’ at the National Gallery and reproduction of Goya’s, ‘Third of May, 1808’.
It’s clear that he’s passionate about drawing and explores this relationship further in his PhD research. Drawing for him is a way of expressing ideas through research. He meticulously uses drawing to record an event, to observe intently. And then, as ‘an enthusiastic cultural sampler’ he rethinks them and creates new artwork.