Mari Griffith
8 March 2024

Donald Rodney (1961-1998)

Mari Griffith

8 March 2024 | Minute read

Donald Rodney was a prominent member of the BLK Art Group, an association of young Black artists that emerged in Britain in the 1980s. In their work, they addressed political and social themes through paintings, installations and conceptual pieces.

Rodney was born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, the last of twelve children. From childhood, he suffered from sickle-cell anaemia, an inherited disease more common in people of African or Caribbean descent. He completed a degree in Fine Art at Trent Polytechnic in 1985, followed by a course in multimedia fine art at the Slade School of Fine Art, which he finished in 1987.

In his artistic practice, he drew extensively on popular culture, appropriating and using images to confront issues of racism and racial identity. His later career saw him making increasing use of medical motifs and materials, such as the discarded X-rays or data accumulated during his treatment. By enlarging X-ray images of his own inner self, he addressed the wider ‘ills’ of society, in particular the problem of racial discrimination.

One of Rodney’s latest and best-known works is in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection: In the House of my Father (1996-7) shows a small sculpture of a fragile house resting in the palm of the artist’s hand. The house is made from his own dried skin, removed during a medical procedure; it presents a metaphor for family, lineage and shared heritage. Rodney died of sickle-cell anaemia the following year, aged 38.

Mari Griffith is an art historian who has worked in the field of museums and galleries for 30 years, developing and overseeing learning and interpretation provision for public art collections and exhibitions, including at the National Gallery, National Gallery of Art and Royal Academy of Arts. Following a period working internationally on art and heritage interpretation, she is now a freelance writer, editor and translator – focusing mostly on art.

RODNEY, Donald Gladstone
© Donald Gladstone Rodney/Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales


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