Donelle Woolford: A Narrative
by Joe Scanlan, 2007

Donelle Woolford is an African American artist for the 21st century. Her medium is wood. Working alone in the cellar of a renovated Harlem brownstone, she rekindles past glories by reconstructing them from memory. Her assemblage paintings, Cubist in spirit, are intentionally made to coincide with and challenge the centennial anniversary of that movement.

On closer inspection, Donelle Woolford’s work seems to be devised theatre wrapped in identity politics filtered through memory and subjectivity. The question is, on which memories are her reconstructions based? African art? Postmodernism? A manufacturing-based economy? Cubism? When images just come to you, when they just well up out of the debris under your feet as if by instinct, where do they come from? Is Donelle Woolford, having been made aware of the twentieth century’s dominant aesthetic by various institutions of higher learning, merely regurgitating it on their behalf? Or is she reaching back, as if through a time machine, through Western culture to a more distant West African ancestry? Given the Postmodern theories of cultural origin and influence that are the basis of identity politics, is that kind of dissimilation even possible?

The question posed by Donelle Woolford is the willingness of the artist to be free, to be imaginative, to do whatever is necessary to construct the best narrative possible. If that narrative is compelling, and if its characters and ideas and material props are desirable, then the commodification of art and politics that ensues has the potential to change the dialogue between art and the consumers of art — that is, between art and its audience. If one of the consequences of that potential, that change, is that one artist must recede into the background (if not disappear entirely) so that another can take center stage, then so be it.

Donelle Woolford, Narrative artist.
Donelle Woolford, Cubist painter.
Donelle Woolford, avatar.
The possibilities are endless.