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Donald Rodney

  • CountryUnited Kingdom
  • Born1961
  • Died1998


Whether political or personal, Rodney illustrated his versatility, utilizing a range of mediums for artistic expression through painting, installations, audio, robotics, film, and archive. He chose to incorporate his medical condition of sickle cell anemia, an illness he had been living with his whole life. He used this as a metaphor for black emasculation, racial stereotyping and wider socio-political concerns in contemporary society.

In 2000 AUTOICON, a dynamic internet work and CD-ROM that simulates both the physical presence and elements of Rodney’s creative personality; was published by Iniva and developed by a close group of friends and artists, playfully described as ‘Donald Rodney plc’, who have acted as an advisory and editorial board in the artist’s absence, and who specified the rules by which the ‘automated’ aspects of the project operate. The exhibition ‘Donald Rodney – In Retrospect’ took place at Iniva in 2008. The exhibition brought together a number of Rodney’s seminal works dating from the late 1980s to his final solo exhibition in 1997, ‘9 Night in Eldorado’.

Rodney was born in Smethwick, West Midlands in 1961 to Jamaican parents. In 1981, Rodney studied BA Fine Art at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham, where he was profoundly affected by encounters with artists such as Keith Piper, Eddie Chambers, Marlene Smith and Claudette Johnson, who were re-examining social and historical narratives from a black perspective. Chambers and Piper upheld the notion of Black Art/Black Power, which lead to the formation of the Blk Arts Group. Rodney became a prominent member of the Blk Arts Group; his work highlighted the socio-political condition of Britain in the 1980s-90s, referencing the global impact of a colonial past. He also explored themes of black masculinity, the body and the stereotyping of young black man as ‘public enemy’ and icon of danger.

Rodney had 6 solo exhibitions that stemmed from 1985-1997. He also showed and participated in numerous other exhibitions and residencies across this period. In 1996, he was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Sculpture and Installation. Rodney’s last solo exhibition (dedicated to the memory of his father): ‘9 Night in Eldorado’ opened at the South London Gallery in 1997. Including his piece ‘Psalms’, which consisted in a computer-automated empty wheelchair.

On March 1998, Rodney died from sickle- cell anemia, aged 36. At the time of his death in 1998, his artistic career had spanned two decades and had produced some of the most engaging and innovative work by a British artist of his generation.

In 2016, ‘Reimaging Donald Rodney’ took place at Vivid Projects, Birmingham. It expanded on the potential of Rodney’s archive as a resource for challenging our conceptions of cultural, physical and social identity.

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