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Iru Magazine - Donj

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I met with dancer, designer, singer, artist, and promoter, Donj, at the Flat Iron Hotel in Manhattan. Donj was born in Trinidad, but was brought up in the US. He spent his pre-teen and teenage years in Stamford, CT, where he learned the art of breakdancing. Later, Donj moved to Brooklyn where he pursued two of his greatest passions: singing and fashion. His clothing line, Swagstarnation mixes streetwear with trendy designs that are reminiscent of graffiti. As a promoter, Donj was able to use club venues as an opportunity to showcase his creative endeavors to party-goes, through the use of fashion shows and art displays. I wanted to pick his brain and see what sparked his love of fashion, art, and dance.

Donj grew up in a Trinidadian culture, with appreciation for art in all its forms. His uncles and grandfather were designers, and he would see them crafting and sewing beautiful suits. This inspired him to consider going into fashion on his own one day, but he didn't move in that direction right away. Donj was always around couture; his heritage familiarized him with making elaborate costumes for celebrations like Carnival. Now as an adult he’s noticed that even his cousins are into fashion. From his family he acquired the necessary guidance and resources to move forward with his vision.

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Donj recently had his first solo art exhibit at the World Trade Gallery on Wall St. which, I might add went very well. He displayed a wide array of paintings and sold all of them. He says he is, “grateful for having such an exceptional response to his very first art show.” Coming from the world of street art, Donj wasn’t as experienced with fine art at first. Needless to say, he made quite an impression when at his first gallery show his work was displayed beside Keith Haring and Andy Warhol’s.


When asked to describe his art Donj said, “My art is very funky, very swaggerific, very glossy from the flossy, and very abstract.” He continued to explain that he comes from the graffiti era, and  experimented with a lot of arrows, shading, and different 3-D effects. With his current art he combines the element of graffiti with abstract brush strokes and broken up pieces. He also paints in many different styles, ranging from realistic portraits and landscapes, conceptual art, to interior design. Donj recently came out with his own technique built upon the technique of artist George Seurat’s, who created the style of pointillism and stippling, also known as dotting. Donj transformed George’s technique of dotting into third dimensional designs in his own art. He did this so the texture of his art, whether it’s clothing, interior or exterior murals, or canvases, could be appreciated by those who cannot see. 

What influences your work the most?


First and foremost Donj is inspired by his family and God. He has been blessed with a gift for creating art, and believes he is divinely inspired to do so. Donj says, “Art is life and life is art.” A casual walk around New York will inspire him; the beautiful murals, architecture, and graffiti seen on the city walls are reflected in the art he crafts. Even the people of New York lend themselves to his creativity; walking the streets and experiencing the vibe of the people, as well as their clothing, fills him with inspiration. Donj says, “New York is always inspiring.”

How has adversity helped you succeed?


“All the struggles, all the failures, just pushed me to be stronger, and to not take no for an answer,” Donj replied. Even at his lowest points he didn’t give up; he used the low points of his life to think and strategize and figure out what he could do to bring himself back up. Donj said he would ask himself, “how can I get over this obstacle in a positive way?” For him, adversity is just an opportunity to become stronger. He knows how difficult it can be to go through tough times, but still, he looks at adversity straight on and wonders, “How can I attack it and come out stronger?”



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What has been your biggest lesson in your career thus far?

 

Donj replied, “I’ve learned so much. I’ve definitely learned to believe in myself more, the more time I’ve been in this industry. There are a lot of things behind the scenes of the entertainment industry they won't tell you about, that are both overwhelming and overbearing to the artists. Being in this industry has taught me to never give up.” His belief in himself is what allows him to continue to pursue his dreams relentlessly.

How  do you give back to the community?

 

Recently, Donj created an art piece that was auctioned off at 10,000$ for the American Cancer Association. He accepted no money for his art, and all the proceeds went towards research on finding a cure for Cancer. Donj also volunteered his time in local dance studios, teaching kids the art of dance. These kids weren’t afforded many opportunities to dance outside of their inner city neighborhoods, so Donj would share his expertise with them and give them dance classes.

 

Donj also gives back to people with his art. He takes part in the tradition, called Free Art Friday. On this day Donj would make the same art designs on a cheaper canvas and then give his art away to random people on the street.This was not only charitable, but also served to create interest in the young artist.


//Aisha Marie Sho @Shaka_Sho