In his earliest years at the Jamaica School of Art, Kalfani Ra’s work was viewed as radical and progressive. In those days ‘Dougy’ (as he was then called) had a reputation for being unconventional and for constantly challenging his peers and tutors. His approach found sympathy with fellow-students like Omari Ra, Stanford Watson and Valentine Fairclough who were experimenting not only with the formal concepts of painting but also with the whole thought structure that underpinned Western notions of art and life. Together they developed new approaches to painting and a black world-view that has become central to Kalfani Ra’s experimental work.
This ‘ mind shift’ did not come through a seamless progression of ideas and actions. Rather, the artist’s work has been through a number of changes that like his names ‘Makandal Dada’ and finally ‘Kalfani Ra’ reflected his rebirth as a painter and the development of his black consciousness. Central to this process of maturation was Kalfani Ra’s participation in an international Triangle Workshop that allowed him to visit Zimbabwe and gather first hand experience of life in Africa.Kalfani Ra’s paintings executed with a hard edged, graphic cartoon style reflect his interest in agit-prop and advertising. Despite his use of signs and symbols his paintings like ‘reggae’s message music’ are heavily politicised and readily deciphered. They are concerned with post-colonial black societies and their survival outside of American hegemony. Often they are hard-hitting and scathing in their judgment of Jamaican society and its alienating life styles. But conversely, there is a concern and empathy with Jamaica’s disenfranchised masses that makes even Kalfani Ra’s most sensationalised work, poignant and poetic.