By Prisca Sam-Duru
Donna Duke, a self-taught mixed media portrait painter based in Lagos, is passionate about the African narrative. Her paintings which primarily involve the interpretation of black portraiture exhibit countless narratives within human existence.
Donna’s works explore mixed-media through the use of acrylic, oil, metal, and 24k gold leaf and resin, a technical style which at times, is combined with a collage of traditional West African fabric on wooden panels.
Professionally, Donna who is the daughter of the former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke, started her creative activities over a year ago but began drawing and painting at the age of five when she was also involved in other creative activities. She, however, stopped making art when she got to secondary school. According to her, “After I graduated from the University, I just decided to try the hobby again”.
Donna Duke read history which is completely unconnected to art but her raw talent and supportive parents she noted, are responsible for her achievements in the art industry. “I am incredibly lucky. I’ve always had very supportive parents. They’ve supported me more than I’ve supported myself. When I thought about where my creativity could go, they backed me completely and gave me the resources and tours. Their words and encouragement more than anything brought me this far and in such an isolating profession like art; because you work all by yourself with your materials all the time, it’s really nice to know there are people who support what you are doing”.
The artist was at the Noire Exhibition which was one of the few events that rounded up activities in 2020. It was her very first exhibition as an artist but the pieces she displayed were classy and did not present her as a first-timer. “The Noire exhibition was my first outing. By the grace of God, I plan to hold a solo exhibition. The Noire Exhibition was like a dream come true. It was a great opportunity for me to have people see what I’ve been doing. It was daunting actually and I was nervous all through but, I’m happy it turned out well”.
Definitely, no other way to describe her experience at the exhibition other than that it ended beyond her imagining. Donna took to her Instagram page where she has over 4 thousand followers after that experience and wrote; “The last few months have been an overwhelming and exhilarating few, culminating in my first art exhibition last weekend. I am beyond grateful to my family, friends, and everyone who came to support me and the five amazing @thenoireexhibition artists, without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank you to everyone that bought a piece, feeling incredibly blessed to have sold out at my first exhibition”.
The works she exhibited in the Noire Exhibition were all produced in 2020 and they took her between two and six months to complete. “I work on multiple pieces at a time so, some works took me two months, others between four and six months”, she explained.
Donna is unapologetically fascinated by African narrative and achieves more by projecting the aspects easily ignored by most Creatives. “I’m very passionate about telling the black experience not necessarily the experience of suffering, or experience of the entire negative price that comes with being black in this world. I tell stories even if it’s mundane things such as love and I want to make sure we are represented and our voices and conversations are part of the topic”.
That was the objective of The Noire exhibition in the first place; encouraging black women to represent themselves better in the creative space.
Asked what her next step after The Noire Exhibition would be, Donna said that “By God’s grace after the Noire exhibition, I want to make sure that everything I create is authentic to me, and how I see the world. I never want to feel as though I’m mass producing something which is a feeling that I’m rushed to produce something. I would really love to keep doing this because I’ve never been passionate about anything else in my life”.
Art means so much for the young artist and has served her so well especially as a perfect means of expression. “Sometimes I find it very difficult to say in words, exactly how I feel about something. So having something that can mean multiple definitions in one image, is priceless because it takes a whole lot off my back and it allows me to express myself in ways I wouldn’t have been able to”, she said.
Ordinarily, one is concerned that young artists may find it difficult letting their voices be heard in a field adorned with grand art masters and other established artists but Donna feels differently. “I think social media has been integral in my growth. Thousands of people see my work on Instagram, and that’s a great opportunity a lot of artists didn’t have before. Social media has changed the scope of the field itself. So, I find it had to say if it’s had to penetrate the art community because I don’t really know what the traditional art scene was. But for me, it’s been quite nice”.
Just like most Creatives, Donna experiences block though hers is in the extreme. She however makes up for the time lost, with the duration of work hour. “I go through artist block a lot so, I try to focus on how I feel before I go to work. I also make sure I have music on. I’m the type of person once I start, I paint for eight hours straight. I guess that’s why I go through extreme blocks”.