It is another good day in Africa. Yinka Shonibare is exhibiting again after a 15 year absence.
Born in London, raised in Nigeria, trained at Central Saint Martins and Goldsmiths College, Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) is a creative force to be reckoned with as his multifaceted oeuvre grapples with the lasting legacy of colonialism
“Ruins Decorated marks Yinka Shonibare’s first exhibition with Goodman Gallery – his second solo show in South Africa and one of the legendary artist’s rare moments of visibility on the African continent.
It is an apt time for Shonibare to show work in South Africa. His public artwork speaks to issues relating to the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue, and the subsequent debates around colonial monuments and how to re-cast them in public memory.
In his upcoming exhibition of new and never before exhibited work, Shonibare asks bold and nuanced questions that address subjects such as forging modern African identities and what it means to complicate the concept of cultural appropriation.
When New York City officials removed a 19th-century statue of gynaecologist James Marion Sims—who conducted unanaesthetised experiments on enslaved women—from Central Park early this year, they needed to fill the empty space.
The replacement installation could not just be commemorative—it needed to, unlike its predecessor, be culturally awakened, too. Enter the swirling, brightly printed Wind Sculpture (SG) I, installed in Central Park in March. The contrast between it and the old Sims sculpture couldn’t be starker.
“My piece is about the different backgrounds of people coming together,” Shonibare explains. Adorned in a batik-pattern print that’s become a characteristic of his work, it’s a nod to fabrics now synonymous with Africa yet, ironically, originally a product of the Dutch. That complex, layered history is exactly the point.
“The fabrics are a signifier of the identity of people from Africa and the African diaspora, but more importantly, how they encounter with Europe,” says Shonibare. “The textiles I use were actually produced by the Dutch and then sold to West Africans, yet they’re now known as markers of African identity. I’m very interested in the colonial relationships between Africa and Europe, and the fabrics have become a metaphor for that.”
Images and copy courtesy of Goodman Gallery & Harpers Bazaar