Yinka Shonibare creates some of the most unusual conceptual art I have seen in a very long time. His talent is expressed in a variety of ways, ranging from installation art, photography, sculpture, painting , film and performance. The breadth and depth of his work is truly
unique and creative and totally fascinating and I am sure you will agree.
BACKGROUND: Shonibare’s roots are a combination of British and African, having been born in London and subsequently spending his formative years growing up in Nigeria and then returning to London at 17 to study art. He was stricken with an illness at 18 that left one side of his body completely paralyzed. Despite the fact that his disability became more severe with age, it did not stop him from pursuing his artistic passions. He went on to exhibit at important museums around the world, participate in the Venice Biennale, as well as other important art events, and to be awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire)…amongst several other honorary awards and esteemed positions in the British art world. Furthermore, he is represented by galleries in London, New York, Melbourne, Berlin and Hong Kong.
Although at first glance some of it might seem quite playful, there are several motivating themes that unite all of his work. Shonibare’s art examines stereotypical ideas of race and class through his various mediums. Specifically, he is often making statements about the colonial relationship that existed between Europe and Africa and the underlying consequences that are apparent in today’s world, politically, economically and socially.
One playful aspect in his work that Shonibare utilizes to communicate his messages is to integrate colorful batik fabrics, which automatically make one think of Africa. He employs these fabrics in ironic and symbolic ways, such as portraying a rich woman from Victorian times with a fashionable dress from that era composed out of this “African” fabric. Or you might see an “alien” he created composed totally of a batik fabric, here functioning as a commentary on the quests of the rich in the past centuries.
The interesting fact about these fabrics is that they were originally brought to Africa through the Dutch West Indies Company. Although we all think of these colorful prints as originating in Africa they are actually produced in England and in the Netherlands. According to Shonibare, he loves playing with this misconception as it represents how hybridized culture throughout the world really is today.
One will also note that his figures are most often headless or wearing large globes instead of heads. At other times you will see animal heads on human bodies. One of my favorites by Shonibare in this genre is called Revolution Kids ( 2012). Here he created mongrel creatures, with a the bodies of youths and the heads of either a fox or a young cow, carrying gold guns, similar to one that Colonel Gaddafi wielded, and holding Blackberries in another hand. This series visually depicts Shonibare’s point of view about the Arab Spring and how social media has become integral to modern day insurgencies.
“Fabric-ation” , was his last big show in England, and it opened March, 2013 and ran through August, 2013 in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Yorkshire. It featured many outstanding works of Shonibare’s over the last decade and was the perfect opportunity for someone to see his artistic development over that period.
When art catches my attention for being clever and original and also has an important message to communicate I always put that artist on my A-List of “Must Follows.” Undoubtedly, I would definitely classify the art of Yinka Shonibare in that category.. I am planing on checking out his gallery here in New York City, the James Cohan Gallery, and see when he will be on exhibit next. Do not want to miss that one!
Ciao, ciao ’til next time!