Monday, May 15, 2006

Truely, Madly, Deeply Modern | Godfried Donkor

Born in 1964 in Kumasi, Ghana, Godfried Donkor moved to the UK at the age of 8. Today he is a prominent force and one of the leading lights within the British art world. I caught up with him at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich last week at an Exhibition entitled “Looking Both Ways”.

Presently, Godfried is showing a Video Installation entitled, “Jamestown Masquerade”.

The installation is set in Jamestown, which is the old British Colonial port in Ghana’s capital, Accra. The video is densely layered and the work includes imaginative African custom design coupled with elaborate Venetian mask work. The mask wearing models are juxtaposed and set against a crumbling African port, which could be describes as a futuristic environment for the world at large. The video captures a strong sense of our troubled time in history and warns of a possible fragile future. Godfried’s recent work focus’ on the fusion of opposing cultures, what he refers to as “Creolization”, which is in effect is a renaissance of a new visual language | a brand new visual culture.

A series of hand printed colour stills accompany the Video Installation.

On meeting Godfried, one is initially struck at the pace in which he has to work. Few, if any, contemporary London artists are under such exigent pressures. The demand to show his works Internationally is constantly increasing. The global interest and appetite for contemporary black British artists is almost insatiable, especially after the successes of artists such as Chris Ofili and Yinka Shonibare. Donkor is seemingly unfazed by this relatively new phenomenon and determined that his work will not be affected by this sudden perverse attention. Although he did jokingly mention that he was off to the Zoo for some fresh fertilizer.

“It is merely a distraction from the work being produced. I want to bide my time and ensure that those viewing my work see me as an International artist opposed to a potential gold mine and simply branded, the elusive Black artist. This new development in Contemporary art circles is viewed as a dangerous form of censorship and often prominent artists are ruined by Collectors who simply buy the artist’s silence.”

Similar to his counterparts Godfried Donkor comes from a stable of impressive St Martins College artists from the mid 1980’s and has extensively exhibited in Cuba, Mexico, America, Spain and the Venice Biennale. In 1998, when invited to Senegal, he was included in the Dak’Art Festival. Godfried was award first prize | Best International Artist at the Festival.

With such successes under his belt today Godfried’s work exudes confidence and his calm, methodical modernist approach is derives from his interest in the modern literature rather than art, with the influences of playwrights and writers such as Pushkin , Beckett and Pinter. Drawing on aspects of time and endurance of the mundane and the omnipresent inequality of life in Britain, which is a prominent feature in Godfried’s dark edgy Brixton.

Recently, Godfried worked on a series of four life-sized - 6ft canvases entitled “Boxers”. The work was produced in his studio in South London in 2005 – Oil on canvas and meticulously painted over a 12-month period. All the intricate details of the FT Index background were carefully and patiently hand-painted. Drawing again on the juxtaposition - this continual theme of the clash of two opposing forces once again – The FT, the global icon of established Britain and the bloody, broken-nosed boxer of the exploited black creates a highbred full-caste – again a “Creolization”.

The works can be interpreted as a pictorial Annual Report but something is not quite right…..! All 4 quarterly reports are overshadowed by an aggressive black boxer, which decisively makes the viewer understandably nervous and uncomfortable these life-size canvases each make similar commentary of today’s growing Global economies and the perennial repetitive division between the Developed and Developing Worlds. The boxers shown on the canvas have an overly obvious reference to violence inherent in society and this point is laboured over the 4 works, effectively mirroring the theatrical influence of Modernism. Godfried’s work is similar to an alchemist’s and his process is thorough and extensive. The process involves constantly boiling the argument down and the end result is purposefully overly simplifying the subject matter allowing the audience to visualise the bastardised core. There is a comfortable confidence on the finished canvases.

Image: Jamestown Masquarade by Godfried Donkor
Author: Joe Pollitt

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