Kimathi Donkor: Queens of the Undead

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

Kimathi Donkor’s dramatic large-scale paintings express pathos, wrath, devotion and irony. This exhibition includes a series of new commissions by the artist celebrating heroic black women from history, shown alongside selected earlier works.

Research texts written by curator/ writers David Dibosa (Chelsea College of Art & Design) and Carol Tulloch (University of the Arts) are displayed alongside the paintings, adding context and making reference to histories which might not be so apparent.

About the artist’s work

Kimathi 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.

About Queens of the Undead

‘These paintings resurrect the undead glory of charismatic black women who each helped define the modern world, and are revered as amazing armed heroines in their homelands – a lot like Joan of Arc. Of course, I enjoy quoting imagery from their own times, but I also want to reflect the turbulent power such bold figures still exert on our contemporary imagination.’ Kimathi Donkor

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.

Talks and events programme

A series of events exploring art’s relationship to history and contemporary politics accompanies the exhibition – details to follow soon.
Please note that PS2 may be closed on some Thursdays throughout the exhibition when we are hosting events. Call Rivington Place on 020 7749 1240 or email if you would like more information.