Nathaniel Donnett

Contemporary Paper Bag Series Standardized Testing & Social Commentary Work 2009



Mixed media


Framed example of a paper bag test from the installation titled “Paper or Plastic?” at the Lawndale Art Center in 2009 by Houston, TX artist, Nathaniel Donnett. In the exhibition, Donnett set up a series of school desks in the gallery with a set of test questions that the audience was intended to answer on paper bags. The use of paper bags references the “brown paper bag test” once used by some groups to determine what privileges an individual could have. People whose skin was a darker complexion than a paper bag were often denied access to many public spaces and resources. The school environment of the installation also calls to mind the practice of standardized testing. Through asking a series of pointed questions, Donnett underscores the point that tests “conducted to compare the intelligence between blacks and whites” have failed to “take into account culture differences and biases of the white creators of the tests.”

Artist Biography

"Art and life are inseparable, and in life, we as humans seek symmetry in asymmetrical spaces to reflect that, and that space is a liminal and unknown space." Nathaniel Donnett is a multidisciplinary cultural practitioner born in Houston, TX. His practice holds metaphysical and phenomenological spaces exploring history, space/time, the in/exterior self, and race. Black aesthetic traditions, music, informal fractal theory, and sacred geometry are codes and refusal strategies he uses to challenge conventional timeline narratives and Westernized frameworks. Donnett employs varied materials across multiple genres to refer to difference and the plurality within black social life and the unknown. His use of visual and audio as a language through abstraction and vernacular architectural form highlights the poetics within the everyday. In addition, Donnett seeks to find nuance and expanded meaning through the lens of imagination, experience, and the liminal space to question socio-political concerns and the cultural landscape that impacts the undervalued and overlooked. Dark Imaginarence is a neologism Donnett coined to describe his practice and methodology. Rather than prioritize consumption, dark imaginarence also emphasizes the imagination, experience, place, observation, improvisation, spirituality, process, and community. Dark imaginarence is a polyrhythm and a ghost note. It is art, before art, after art, or may not be art at all. Dark imaginarence is neither- either/or - it's both/and. It is a body, mind, and soul composition played by human and spiritual ancestral genealogies. It is poetic, musical, material, thinking, and cosmological. Dark imaginarence is blackness. Dark Imaginarence is a way of life where one exists creatively.


H 20.5 in.x W 20.5 in. x D 1.75 in.
Contemporary Paper Bag Series Standardized Testing & Social Commentary Work 2009