British- Ghanaian mixed media artist Godfried Donkor Following a seven-month residency, will have new works on display at Gallery 1957 beginning later this month. Titled “Battle Royale: Last Man Standing Part 1,” the exhibition takes a deep dive into Donkor’s 20 plus years of research into colonialism and slavery.
Using the history of pugilism as the cornerstone of his extensive research, Donkor explores the relationship between boxing and the slave trade within the UK, US and Ghana, citing events such as “battles royal”, where white men would force black slaves to fight to the death until there was only one man standing. From aristocrats fighting peasants in the UK, to plantation owners staging matches for slaves in the US, Donkor’s work examines the social-historical relevance of boxing as ‘the art of self-defence’.
For his exhibition at Gallery 1957, the artist reimagines a screen from 1801 owned by Lord Byron, depicting portraits of several well-known boxers of the time. Byron’s fascination with pugilism stemmed from sparring sessions with bare-knuckle prize-fighting champion John “Gentleman” Jackson. Donkor also presents a series of new paintings on canvas and board as well as his collages, which explore the figure of both the male and female (amateur) boxer across time. He revisits iconography used in previous works including that of Bill Richmond, the British boxer born a slave in New York in 1763, and his peer Tom Molineux.
within the British Army brought the sport to the ‘Gold Coast’ in the 18th century. As part of his residency, Donkor also visited contemporary boxing gyms in Jamestown, Accra – a place known as the home to an unprecedented number of world boxing champions, and also the first port of settlement by the British in Ghana.
Donkor’s exhibition at Gallery 1957 coincides with Ghana’s “Year of Return” – a year-long initiative encouraging members of the African diaspora to visit Ghana; the event marks 400 years since the beginning of the ‘Middle Passage’ – the voyage that transported Africans against their will to work as slaves in the West.