Painting Black Woman with Afro embodied by a Rose and Based in Water is Not Art

Donna Kakonge\’s Painting – Photo Courtesy of Donna Kakonge


I tried to get my artwork displayed at One Love, a vegetarian restaurant northwest of Bathurst and Bloor in Toronto; however, another artist had already reserved the space.

The same artist has a mural on the outside wall of the building where the restaurant is of tropical birds and an environmental scene. This sets up the dynamic where if what I do is art is compared and contrasted with other artists. Obviously, according to the restaurant owner, I did not measure up to the talents of the young mural artist, emphasizing the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (Dewey, 1934). The restaurant is run by what I believe to be Rastafarians. Perhaps perception, however, I could sense from the owner of One Love that something depicting a black female may be something she thinks will turn away white patrons. She may be right since her restaurant brings a diversity of customers although the cuisine is uniquely Caribbean.
hooks (2000) says that many black people do not see the visual arts as important in the struggle of black folks, they turn to the media arts. For visual art representations of black folks in the public realm, there are few. Even the ROM showcases very few black faces, other than Nelson Mandela, in works of visual art. The artwork displayed in the regular exhibit of the ROM are mainly wooden carvings, displays of combs, bowls, and sculptures. Actually, paintings are scarce and the same is true at the AGO, as well as the galleries on West Queen St. West, as well as in the Distillery. So I ended up hanging up my work of art on my bedroom wall above my MacBook Pro laptop. I do not have a wide audience for it (Dewey 1934).

Again, Dewey (1934), discussing impulsion, I knew where I was going with the painting. I had it clearly planned out in my mind’s eye. I had been inspired by a painting by Toni Daley “Blame it on Boogie” that I saw at the Caribana Exhibit 2010. This too, would not make it art in Dewey’s perception.

I have not been formally trained in fine art. I took it in grade school and was always very good at it. I enjoyed it thoroughly. My background has mainly been in media arts.
My painting style is nothing like the refined, intricate and detailed sketchings of Japanese artists you see in the ROM. The very fact that the regular exhibit of the ROM does not contain a heavy visual art collection of African or Caribbean art, rather mostly wooden sculptures and textiles – does this mean I was not even born to be considered an artist at this place and time in society?

As Davis (2005) describes the fictional Octavia and her unaware whimsy while creating her art, I do not tend to operate as a child when producing my art. My “U’s” probably are adult-like, being trained for many, many years in the art of penmanship before computers, as well in the art of writing throughout my education and career. To Davis (2005), I may not be viewed as an artist, or what I produce to be artwork at all. As well, it does not sit prominently in a gallery such as the ROM or AGO. I highly doubt if Davis (2005) would view me to be an artist, or she would see the work that I do only benefit those of the group to which I belong to and unable to reach or affect others.
As Graham (1998) writes about the art of being a dancer, I do not train every day to be a visual artist. I taught a Dramatic Writing course at Ryerson University over the summer and there was a student in my class who would constantly sketch. She sketches all of the time, and also works as a court reporter in movies and does animation as part of her career. Unlike Graham or my former student, I have not ever made a single penny from what I can recall from my artwork.

When I was 6-years-old, a picture I did in grade 1 was put up at a hospital. This is the only time my artwork has had a public viewing. Perhaps to the public view, to the public eye and to my audience, my artwork has lost something as Davis (2005) states in Framing Education as Art.


Butterfield, Joan. (2010). From the Soul COLOURblind 2010 Royal Ontario Museum. [Art Exhibit].
Davis, Jessica. (2005). Framing Education as Art: The Octopus has a Good Day. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, John. (1934/2005). Art as Experience. New York: Perigee [AE].
hooks, bell. (2000). Art is for everybody. In D. Chasman and E. Chian (eds.), Drawing us in, (pp. 96-104). Boston: Beacon.
Graham, Martha. (1998). I am a dancer. In The Routledge Dance Studies Reader, (pg. 66-71). New York: Routledge.


Author: kakonged

I am an author, journalist, teacher, and lawyer who lives in Toronto, Canada.

2 thoughts on “Painting Black Woman with Afro embodied by a Rose and Based in Water is Not Art”

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