Yinka Shonibare, MBE — the MBE stands for Most Excellent Order of the British Empire —is a British-Nigerian artist living in London. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism, and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. Shonibare is best known for his whimsical life-sized mannequins dressed in vivid Dutch-wax (African prints and patterns) fabrics. The costumes are usually Victorian, the Victorian era being the period of British history when Africa was colonized. The Dutch-wax period costumes are an Indonesian-designed fabric called, batik that has become popularly assimilated into the West African culture. As his work continues to take on the authenticity of historical moments, the fabrics that were initially to be used to connote African identity, not being originally from Africa are a constant ironic coincidence – working to his advantage as a conceptual artist.
The sculptures add a lightness to addressing weighty themes including race, enlightenment, capitalism, authenticity and least of all identity. You’ll notice that the mannequins are headless, it’s so the figures aren’t racially identifiable. The fiberglass bodies are mixed race, “kind of coffee colored,” Mr. Shonibare said that he conceived of the headlessness as a joke related to the revenge killings of aristocrats in the French Revolution. “The idea of bringing back the guillotine was very funny to me,” he said.*
Throughout the past decade, Shonibare has shown his unique pieces extensively from the United States to Hong Kong, with notable exhibitions including a mid-career retrospective at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.
–>Take a look below at some of the pieces from Shonibare, MBE’s exhibitions as we offer quotes by the artist himself about his inspiration:
Called Cake Man (II), it features a lifesize mannequin dressed in African print, with a huge pile of cakes balanced precariously on his back. “It’s my tribute to bankers,” said Shonibare. “There’s been a lot of talk about bonuses to bankers and the top 1% literally taking all the cake. So this piece, I guess, is about greed. It has more cakes than anyone could ever eat or manage.”
Yinka Shonibare MBE, The Swing (After Fragonard), 2001 (Tate, London) © Yinka Shonibare. The Swing (After Fragonard) is a three-dimensional recreation of the Rococo painting after which it was titled, which itself offers testimony to the opulence and frivolity of pre-Revolutionary France. Painted in 1767, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing depicts a coquettish young girl swinging in a lush and fertile forest and, of course, playfully kicking up her shoe. “Living in England, with my colonial relationship to this country, one cannot escape all these Victorian things, because they are everywhere: in architecture, culture, attitude…” – Yinka Shonibare
“Gallantry and Criminal Conversation (Parasol),” 2002 Two life-size fiberglass mannequins, two metal and wood cases, Dutch wax printed cotton, leather, wood, and steel, 64 1/5 x 44 1/10 x 75 4/5 inches Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody, New York Photo by Werner Maschmann © Yinka Shonibare MBE
“Being able to indulge in your fantasies really belongs to the privileged and the wealthy. I was fascinated with the fashion that comes with that luxury and excess, and I wanted to produce a piece that would be slightly surreal and also a bit of satire as well—poking fun at the whole thing, but also loving it at the same time. It’s not sexually explicit. Really it’s about people having a sense of humor.” -Yinka Shonibare MBE
“How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Ladies),” a 2006 work by Yinka Shonibare with mannequins, guns, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile, shoes, boots, and plinth. Credit Steve White/Museum Purchase, Wellesley College Friends of Art
“He reminds us that every action has ramifications. A girl sprouting butterfly wings, and a male figure outfitted in a spacesuit with his worldly possessions strapped to his back. They are poised for takeoff to escape the mess we have made on Earth and begin anew elsewhere—hopefully having learned from history, so as not to repeat our mistakes.” – —Karen Kedmey via Artsy Editorial, “Yinka Shonibare’s Haunting New Sculptures and Installations Present a Link Between Climate Change and Our Dark History”
Yinka Shonibare MBE’s The Last Supper Exploded is based on a sculpture of the same name first on view at the artist’s solo show Pop! at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, 2013. The exhibition’s central themes explored corruption, excess and debauchery in contemporary society, with particular reference to the most recent on-going economic crisis. In The Last Supper Exploded, Shonibare investigates the worship of luxury goods and the reckless behavior of in particular the financial industry by paying art historical homage to one of humanity’s best-known artworks: Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
Yinka Shonibare [Website] [Twitter]
*quote taken from, Headless Bodies From a Bottomless Imagination – The New York Times
SEE IT NOW:
- Until June 2017 a commission by artist Yinka Shonibare, produced by Up Projects for the Royal Opera House. Titled ‘Globe Head Ballerina,’ on display on the exterior of the building overlooking Russell Street. The work was inspired by a famous photograph of ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Shonibare’s sculpture depicts a life-size ballerina, modeled on Melissa Hamilton, a soloist with the Royal Ballet. Encased in a giant ‘snow globe’, the figure, whose head is a replica Victorian globe, rotates slowly.
photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke, courtesy UP Projects ROH
‘Globe Head Ballerina’ by Yinka Shonibare
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