Saturday, February 14, 2015

Yinka Shonibare MBE[1]
Artist's Profile

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Introduction
Yinka Shonibare MBE was born in London (UK) in 1962. His family moved to Nigeria when he was three years old. Thus, he grew up in Lagos (the former capital city of Nigeria, which has since been replaced by Abuja). He returned to Britain at the age of 17 to do his “A levels”.

Yinka Shonibare MBE.

Shonibare contracted transverse myelitis, which is an inflammation across the spinal cord, at the age of 18 years old. This resulted in a long term physical disability in which one side of his body was paralyzed.

He studied Fine Art (FA) first at Byam Shaw School of Art (now renamed as the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design). He then studied at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he received a Master of Fine-Arts (MFA). After his studies, Shonibare worked as an arts development officer for Shape Arts, an organization, which makes arts accessible to disabled people.

Shonibare became an Honorary Fellow of Goldsmiths' College in 2003, and was awarded an MBE (Member of the “Most Excellent Order” of the British Empire – an Imperial order from the UK) in 2004 and received an Honorary Doctorate (Fine Artist) from the Royal College of Art in 2010. He was elected Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013. He joined Iniva’s Board of Trustees in 2009. He has exhibited at the Venice Bienniale and internationally at leading museums worldwide.

In 2004, he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize for his “Double Dutch” exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and for his solo show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. In September 2008, his major mid-career survey commenced at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Sydney (Australia) and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York in June 2009 and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC in October 2009. In 2010, “Nelson's Ship in a Bottle” became his first public art commission on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (maquette) in Trafalgar Square (2010).
Materials: Plastic, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, cork, acrylic and glass bottle.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Galley, London.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: Making art for public places became a central theme of Shonibare’s latest artworks.

In 2013 a major retrospective of his work was exhibited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (UK) featuring two new works, Wind Sculpture I and II.

Rendering of a Wind Sculpture in Trafalgar Square.
Materials: Fibreglass and steel.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Photograph courtesy of James O’Jenkins.
Comment: Wind sculptures were inspired by the sails of a ship.

The images below are only a vignette of the artists' work that was exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2013 named “Fabric-ation” and have been gleaned from the exhibition guide[1].


Shonibare’s Art Bearings
Yinka Shonibare MBE utilizes humour to tackle serious concepts. In doing so he invites you to raise your consciousness about the concept at hand. His art is always presented in an interesting but irregular context. Body forms are purposely transformed into animals that in most cases are “incomplete”, thereby making you aware that outward “completeness” - in itself - should never be confused with “perfection”. “Perfection” cannot be attained inwardly or outwardly no matter how “complete or incomplete” the outward form appears.

Fake Death Picture (The Suicide – Manet) 2011.
Materials: Digital chromogenic prints.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

In the exhibition – “Fabric-ation” 2013 – the fabric that Shonibare uses is recognizably “African”. It is colorful, with bold prints giving the feeling of being “out there”. How many times do you travel to Europe and the USA and see Afro-Europeans and Afro-Americans, respectively, devoid of color and so draped in black? However, when you travel to subterranean Africa (e.g. Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa etc.) those who can afford it, especially the women, drape themselves in the most colorful Batik clothing, usually imported from Asia. It is these roots that are ingrained in his psyche and so subconsciously give rise to an additional momentum in his artworks.


Fabric-ation[1]
The exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park contained some 38 works[1]. Only images of eight of his works will be displayed below. These images will nevertheless give you a feel for his art.

Little Rich Girls (2010).
Materials: Victorian children's dresses made from Dutch wax printed cotton textiles, emulsion.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: The cost of colorful clothing for children is beyond the means of most subterranean African families. Hence this installation immediately signifies wealth in an African context. What is interesting is how the installation has been arranged. The floating of the dresses signifies the ascent/decent of angels or fairies. Generally, it is the way parents everywhere view their children and so this installation transcends culture and speaks from the heart of humankind.

Flower Cloud I (2006).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, cast resin.
Courtesy of the artist and David Roberts Collection, London.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: The ballerina stands in a majestic pose (on pointe) on a billowing mushroom cloud, unaware of what is below her feet. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 brought a country to its knees and ended the Pacific theatre of WWII. However, like all nightmares that humans create, there is also a conscious creativity that is juxtaposed to it and moreover, that transcends such horror.

Earth (2010).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather, wood, metal base and globe.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.

Air (2010).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather, wood, metal weather vane and metal baseplate.
Courtesy of the artist and Sawikin Family Collection.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.

Fire (2010).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed textile, leather, wood, brass, lamp stand, glass lamp shade, circuit board and LED.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.

Water (2010).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather and wood.
Courtesy of the artist and Private Collection.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: The works - Earth, Air, Fire and Water – can be viewed as four parts of one work. “Earth” has a global head and the color of the costume signifies terra firma. The work also exhibits both men’s trousers and a woman’s decorative skirt (as a trailing item). On the other hand, “Air” with a weather vane as its head, indicates the movement of wind as it sweeps across the globe. The color of the costume also reiterates tempest, rain and sunshine. “Fire” - features a Victorian lamp, with the posture of surprise emphasizing the nature of fire to be uncontrolled. The Silver cup of “Water” will never run dry, with the figure pouring himself a drink that can never be drunk. Note: It is the “incompleteness” that gives these and other works a more irregular take. It is not “perfection” but rather it is the “imprecision” that makes these non-human figures more amusing and interesting.

Revolution Kid (Fox Girl) (2012).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, fibreglass, leather, taxidermy fox head, steel base plate, BlackBerry and 24 carat gold gilded gun.
Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: Revolution Kids is Shonibare’s response to the London riots, the Arab Spring of 2011 and many uprisings worldwide. He is fascinated by social media, and how it can band large numbers of people together to fight for a shared cause. Hence the figure is carrying a gun in the right hand (i.e. raised above the head as a sign to herald others to follow) and a BlackBerry phone in the left (i.e. the means to inform people where to congregate). These humanoid animals (body and clothes of a human but a face of a fox) signify the contradiction between ordinariness, cunningness and mankind having a well-honed killer instinct.

Girl on Globe (2011).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile and globe.
Courtesy of the artist and Blain|Southern, Berlin.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: The Girl on Globe is in a precarious situation. With the globe beneath her feet she appears to be so unbalanced that she will fall. It is as though Shonibare feels that humanity’s future is hanging by the merest thread and that the loss of a “head” in this sculpture has a greater significance, since it appears that we are blind to the cause why humanity may be just another animal casualty in Earth’s future history.

Space Walk (2002).
Materials: Screen printed cotton fabric, fibreglass, plywood, vinyl, plastic and steel.
Co-commissioned by the Fabric workshop, Philadelphia and Spoleto Festival, Charlestown, South Carolina.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.
Comment: Shonibare suggests that the exploration of space bears all the same hallmarks as the colonial expansion of the Earth. In “Space Walk”, whilst we recognized the space suit, and its fabric, nevertheless, the references it contains are unexpected, bearing the names and images of funk and soul groups, with the space shuttle itself named, Martin Luther. With the head as a black globe Shonibare is toying with the idea that the struggle between “them” and “us” will continue wherever humankind lands.

Cannonball Heaven (2011).

Another View.
Materials: Two mannequins, Dutch wax printed cotton, leather boots, foam cannonballs and fibre glass reconstruction cannon.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Comment: When visiting the HMS Victory, Shonibare became fascinated by its heavy artillery – its cannons. Firing the cannon are two figures wearing very ornate uniforms. The uniforms not only distinguish rank but also the social class obtained by each at birth. The cannon balls appear as “soft” sculptures, more like playthings than weapons of destruction. The humour underplays the scene, with one figure placing his fingers in his non-existent ears to deaden the noise. Whilst the scene is almost like a cartoon in construction, like so many Disney cartoon movies, the deadliness of conflict in battle becomes more acceptable due to this fabricated unreality. It is like drones that kill at a distance – they become video games to the operators and so are devoid of reality, making killing less psychologically damaging to the operators but so more deadly to the targeted population at large.

Food Faerie (2010).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather, fibreglass and goose feathers.
Courtesy of the artist and Collection of Edward Tyler Nahem, New York.
Comment: “Food Faerie” is in part a response to the inconsistencies of global food production and the inequalities in international access to food, with the developed nations over consuming and over producing, (e.g. burying its waste as landfill) whereas the peoples of undeveloped nations are under nourished and rely on the compassion of NGOs. The reference in the title to “faerie” (an archaic spelling of fairy), places the works in a fantastical realm outside of the present “reality”. The faeries' large dark wings suggest a darker side to the fairy tale - an omen for unpleasant realities to overcome.


Reference:
[1] Yinka Shonibare, MBA, Exhibition Guide, Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2013).

1 comment:

Lesley Turner said...

A most interesting post about a significant artist. Thank you.