Yinka Shonibare: Artist Profile
Yinka Shonibare, born in London in 1962, is a British-Nigerian artist who grew up between England and Nigeria. He returned to London to study Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art, and later earned his MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London in 1991. Shonibare’s multicultural background and experiences have greatly influenced his artwork, which often explores themes of identity, colonialism, and globalization.
- Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010): This public sculpture, initially displayed on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, is a scaled-down replica of the HMS Victory, encased in a bottle with sails made of Shonibare’s signature batik fabric. The piece touches upon themes of British naval history, colonialism, and multiculturalism.
- The Swing (After Fragonard) (2001): Inspired by Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s famous Rococo painting, Shonibare’s sculpture features a headless figure wearing a period dress made of African batik fabric. The work challenges the traditional Eurocentric art narrative by incorporating African textiles and addressing themes of race, identity, and power.
- Gallantry and Criminal Conversation (2002): This series of staged photographs combines 18th-century European fashion with African batik fabric, highlighting the complex relationships between Europe and Africa during the colonial era. The images evoke themes of sexual intrigue, power, and exploitation.
Throughout his career, Yinka Shonibare has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide. Some notable exhibitions include:
- Yinka Shonibare MBE (2008): A mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, showcasing Shonibare’s diverse artistic practice, including sculpture, painting, photography, and film.
- The British Library (2014): An installation at the Brighton Festival, later acquired by Tate Modern, featuring thousands of books bound in Shonibare’s signature batik fabric. The names of first- and second-generation immigrants to Britain who have made significant contributions to the country’s culture and history are printed on the book spines, underscoring the importance of immigration and cultural diversity.
- Yinka Shonibare CBE: End of Empire (2016): Held at Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK, this exhibition marked the centenary of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, examining its ongoing impact on global politics and cultural identity.
Yinka Shonibare was awarded the title of Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2004 for his contributions to the arts. In 2019, he was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Shonibare was also a Turner Prize nominee in 2004 and has received honorary doctorates from the University of London, the Royal College of Art, and other institutions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What type of art does Yinka Shonibare do?
A: Yinka Shonibare works with various mediums, including sculpture, painting, photography, and installation art. His art often incorporates African batik fabric and explores themes of identity, colonialism, and globalization.
Q: What is Yinka Shonibare inspired by?
A: Yinka Shonibare’s work is inspired by his multicultural background and experiences growing up between England and Nigeria. He often draws on historical and artistic references from European and African cultures to challenge traditional narratives and explore themes of race, identity, and power.
Q: Why are Yinka Shonibare’s sculptures headless?
A: Yinka Shonibare’s headless sculptures are an artistic choice that allows the viewer to focus on the body language and clothing of the figures, which often incorporate African textiles. The absence of heads also represents the erasure of individual identity and serves as a commentary on the dehumanizing aspects of colonialism and the global power dynamics it perpetuates.
Q: What happened to Yinka Shonibare when he was in art school?
A: While studying at the Byam Shaw School of Art, Yinka Shonibare experienced a severe health crisis caused by a rare inflammation of the blood vessels known as transverse myelitis. This condition left him partially paralyzed and affected the mobility of his dominant hand. As a result, he had to adapt his artistic practice and develop new ways to create his artwork.