Monday, December 29, 2008


Yinka Shonibare MBE
"my art mainly basically explores issues around identity and its about my bi-culcutural background in a way."

British-born Nigerian textile Artist, Yinka Sonibare is an internationally recognized contemporary artist.
Yinka Shonibare was born in London in 1962, and moved to Lagos, Nigeria when he was three years old. He moved back to England when he was 17 years old. In the 1980s he studied in London at the Byam Shaw School of Art and graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1991. Whilst in art school, he began with life drawing and later his art work became politicized focusing on global issues. One of his teachers once asked him why he made art work that addressed Western society and events and not authentic African art.

As a joke, Shonibare began to ask himself what is authentic African art. What does it constitute? What does it mean? He grew up in Lagos and felt that he had no special key into ethnic or authentic art as he sees himself as a cosmopolitan citizen.

Shonibare then visited a batik material store in Brixton market in London. He discovered that the 'dutch wax' fabrics he chose to use in his art pieces was originally manufactured in Holland by the Dutch as they were trying to copy Indonesian Batik designs. The Dutch industrially had produced the fabrics for sale in the Indonesian market. The mass produced fabrics failed to appeal to the Indonesians as they did not like the industrially produced versions and so the Dutch merchants began selling the fabrics in West Africa. The English also started to manufacture the fabric in Manchester. Many people think this are authentic 'African fabrics' and he likes the 'fakeness' of that. Today in West Africa, and in many parts of the African continent, the patterned fabric is now an important and distinctive element of the African culture and symbolic of African identity.

At the Victoria and Albert museum in London, in the costume section, Shonibare questioned the issue of class in relation to the colonial history. He was amazed at the scale of the paintings and decided to transform the paintings on canvas into the fabrics. (for more watch video interview here)

A professional theater costumer makes the dresses used in his art pieces. Shonibare has enjoyed increasing international renown with his western historical figures dressed in the Dutch wax African print.

Yinka Shonibare has taken part in numerous international art exhibitions. In 2004 he was nominated for the Turner Prize. Yinka Shonibare is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

He has a son Kayode Shonibare-Lewis who hopes to become a computer games artist.

"the idea for me using Victoriana as a metaphor came from Margaret Thatcher in the 80's was talking about returning to Victorian values."

"I was thinking: Okay, so where do I stand? I live in England. I'm from Nigeria. Nigeria was colonised by the British. The Victorian era was the height of colonialism in Africa. How do I relate to the repressive Victorian regime? So Victorian for me actually means conquest and imperialism. And so, in a sense, it is actually my fear. So what I then decided to do was actually confront my fear and face my fear. And the way to confront my fear, to actually parody that fear. A lot of the work that came out of my desire to face my fear and to turn it into parody. The irony of all of this is that -- since my work has actually been about what imperialism means and how that relates to my own identity -- it's quite ironic that I was then made a member of the order of the British Empire." Yinka on Chris Boyds Blog click here for more

This work was inspired by a painting called Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784 by Sir Henry Raeburn

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 2008

La Méduse

"Swan Lake. It's my version. The film is called Odile and Odette. Odile being the bad character and Odette being the good swan. So what I've done... I've made two characters, one black, one white. And they dance opposite each another with a hollow frame in between them, so you get the illusion that one is a reflection of the other."Yinka on Chris Boyds Blog

Scramble for Africa, 2003, 14 figures, 14 chairs and table
" a recreation of the Berlin conference in the 19th century...It was when Africa was being divided up. It was in Europe. They had this conference in Berlin. And the conference was called Scramble for Africa. So on the table there's a map of Africa drawn. So it's merely capturing a moment when all these brainless people got around the table -- headless, brainless -- to actually divide up the spoils amongst themselves. See if they have original entitlements to it." Yinka on Chris Boyds Blog

"Diary of a Victorian Dandy," commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) in London as a public art project for the Underground.
makes reference to a dandy ( an outsider in the 18th century who pretended through imitation to be part of the upper class in society and was happily rewarded with the benefits of that position). In this photographic works he produces, Shonibare also plays with role reversals between classes and castes, between black and white. In the series Diary of a Victorian dandy, for instance, a black dandy is featured surrounded by white servants. In a humorous way, Shonibare shows us how European prosperity is connected to the imperialistic exploitation of the overseas territories.Source: Absolute Arts
Photos by Arobotar

I had the pleasure to attend his art exhibition at the James Cohan gallery "Prospero's Monsters" in New York. AMAZING!!!

Yinka Shonibare Official Site
Video Interview of Yinka Shonibare
Vlisco website to purchase the fabrics used in the art


paimin said...

Nice job

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Janelle said...

wow! what an incredible find this is! SO RICH!!! jewel like... x janelle (zambian in tanzania)

Alison Schwabe said...

Fascinating, and I'd love to see some of this work. Of course, now, when it's in Sydney I'm not anywhere close.

Chris Boyd said...

It's great to see all these images in the one place. (Especially Shonibare's work side-by-side with the originals!)

One thing tho, Yinka didn't know anything about the "official" site. Apparently it was set up by a fan. Some of the opinions attributed to the artist are not his. Or aren't his words.

I'm going to Sydney to see the exhibition later this month. Woo hoo.


Mama Shujaa said...

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Mama Shujaa

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Anonymous said...

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