Painting of Black Woman with Afro embodied by a Rose and Based in Water is Art

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


After the Caribana Exhibit in July, I contacted Joan Butterfield, the curator to congratulate her on the exhibit.

She invited me to submit to their next exhibit when I expressed a personal interest in art. I had the paints and 30 X 40 canvasses ready according to the submission guidelines and the deadline to submit is May 2011. I painted the picture above to prepare for the 2011 Caribana Exhibit.

The painting is on a 20 X 30 stretched canvas and is a black woman with an afro, surrounded by a red rose with two different bodies of water. Above the afro in some of the corners are flashes of yellow. Below are flashes of orange just above the crimson red rose. The body of water to the left is dark, rich blue. The body of water to the right is about three shades lighter. It took me three days to do this painting.

First, I sketched the outline using sharpies. This was on the first day and my arms were in pain at times, so I needed to take breaks. The following day, I used oil pastels to fill in the colour. I discovered that you really need to paint hard with the used oil pastels I was using; almost as though I would be painting the walls in the house my father lives in now. This was a different kind of painting.

On the final day, I added the definition with the lines under the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, accented the lips and defined the eyelashes. I also was aiming to add more texture to the canvas, unlike what I had helped to do with my father’s walls, and added more paint to all of the colours to give a thickness to the appearance.

Dewey (1934) says impulsions start from a need and are the beginning of artwork in a given environment. Dewey (1934) goes on to explain that the experience of art is a high form of the human experience. I felt a great need to do this painting when I saw Toni Daley’s “Blame it on Boogie” at the Caribana Exhibit. Her painting is of a nude black woman, framed from the chest up and encased in light and dark shadows and reminds one of the disco eras and dancing from dusk until dawn. I decided that with my piece I wanted to make a statement along the lines of how Daley’s piece impressed me, by bringing beauty to the afro, however by replacing the body with a rose, deemphasizing the importance of the size or shape of the body. The rose replacing the body to me was as beautiful, as naturally sweet-smelling and sometimes thorny as we grow older, as the body can be (Springgay, 2008).

Dewey (1934) discusses how the impulsion goes through many obstacles and challenges once out of the body (Dewey, 1934). Challenges include whether there is an audience for it? Worries about how it will be perceived? In this case, I received many favourable comments from friends and family.

hooks (2000) says that many black people do not see the visual arts as important in the struggle of black folks, they instead turn to the media arts. Is my art currently hanging in my bedroom changing the world? Is it causing people to think differently? This is what the artwork of Mierle Ukeles does with her mechanical, industrial and environmental artwork (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1997). My artwork started a surge of the participants in my online course expressing themselves artistically.

I took three photos of the painting and I posted them up for participants in my politics of black hair online course. I received some favourable comments. It encouraged a discussion about art, as well as some participants searching for other artistic material to add to the online course content, such as poetry by Una Marson Kinky Hair Blues (1931). It also encouraged the daughter of one of the participants to agree to have her poem Do You Hair Me? (Oshibajo, 2006) posted up on the course content. As well, Remi Oshibajo gave me permission to use her poem for my dissertation.

Dewey (1934) notes that the purpose of art is to create more order and unity – this is exactly what my art accomplished through my online politics of black hair course which had at that time in late August about 24 active participants. The majority of the participants are black females that feel positively about natural black hair. Abreu (2009) expresses what he has managed to create through the art of music with his youth orchestra in South America. My online course started in July of 2010 and I have already seen participants getting jobs and feeling the inspiration to create their own jobs, as well as express their creativity. It is an ideal environment for the participants to feel safe to express themselves.

As Dewey (1934) goes on to say, I felt a great feeling of happiness at the completion of the work of art. It was difficult however during the process, as I know the creation process I am most familiar with when it comes to writing.

This painting is an expression of my light (Lorde, 1968/1984). It a creation out of my soul and represents my magic within. It has been shared with others and well received. It is indeed art.


Abreu, José. (2009). On Kids Transformed by Music. TED Talks. [Video].
Butterfield, Joan. (2010). From the Soul COLOURblind 2010 Royal Ontario Museum. [Art Exhibit].
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.
Lorde, Audre. (1968/1984). Poetry is Not a Luxury. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, (pg. 36-39). New York: Norton, Quality Paperback Book Club.
Marson, Una. (1931). Kinky Hair Blues. Kingston: Gleaner.
Oregon Public Broadcasting. (1997). A World of Art: Works in Progress. Annenberg Media Initiative. Mierle Ukeles.
Oshibanjo, Remi. (2006). Do You Hair Me? The Politics of Black Hair Online Course. July 19, 2010 to present.
Springgay, Stephanie. (2008). Body knowledge and curriculum: Pedagogies of touch in youth and visual culture. NY: Peter Lang.

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