A CONVERSATION STARTER: ‘RUINS DECORATED’ BY YINKA SHONIBARE MBE

Yinka Shonibare is a London-born Nigerian who spent his formative years in Nigeria before relocating to the UK, where he currently resides, to study art. Working in painting, sculpture, photography, film and installation, Shonibare is known to extensively explore the concepts of colonialism and post-colonialism in relation to the modern contexts of globalization. Thoroughly insightful, his works in the past decade belie the underlying interrelatedness between Africa and Europe, their political and economic histories and effects on social constructs such as race, class and cultural identities on either terrain. The work is a review of the Roman and British colonial empires as represented with the sculptures and reflects on the continent as a post-colonial hybrid. He’s been recognized for his brilliant contributions to contemporary art, was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize and was conferred the honor as Member of the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’, or MBE in 2004. Shonibare’s project titled ‘Ruins Decorated’ will be his first African exhibition in fifteen years with Goodman Gallery and his first solo exhibition in Goodman Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in South Africa. It features the installation of ‘The African Library’ and other never before exhibited work. The exhibition will be open in Johannesburg from 1 September until 10 October 2018.

The African Library is an installation of thousands of books covered in the artist’s signature Dutch wax printed cotton textile (not to be misconstrued as African print or Ankara).  The books and the accompanying digital archive bear the names and detailed contributions of noteworthy personalities from the continent. Highlighted on the book spines are the names of those who supported and advocated for independent governance such as Nelson Mandela, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, and several others. The other books bear records of those who contributed to shaping the continent post-colonially and others who influenced all aspects of the African identity as we know it; in science, art, literature, music and cinema. Said to have been inspired by the emancipation of the African continent and the positive and negative results of colonialism, the exhibition is a holistic chronicling of our journey as a continent through art and literature, our emergence in the light of modern ideals and a rapidly changing social climate.

 

“You know, I think that the art world does depend very much on fashion – fashion is not something you can necessarily take away from the art world. There will be movements that come and go, but that’s not really important because the whole issue of it being a fad or fashion isn’t for the artists themselves, that’s for the market. Culture is always there. I think it’s up to the artist to create interest in things for themselves, and that’s when people will follow.

Artists, in my opinion, should never follow the market, or any kind of trend, because the market follows artists. At the end of the day, any good artist will be followed by the market and not the other way around. The point I’m trying to make is:  art is about being pioneers; it’s about creativity after all. Art is also capable of constantly changing ahead of society. That’s why artists have to always be the ones dictating terms of how their work is viewed.”Yinka Shonibare for Art Africa `

 

In these crucial times when every aspect of society is gradually dissolving into one big idea, and we are all being assessed by the same standards, expressions such as these hold pivotal implications. Shonibare had said the purpose of this exhibition was to rouse debates on cultural appropriation and what it means to forge modern identities today. A critical appraisal of the idea of western superiority and colonialism has been a pending conversation starter for lack of proper perspective. This could be said to be the necessary prompter that would permeate all factors of socialization until mainstream conversations carry the appropriate ideals to initiate a progressive continent. His broad regard of Africa under a microscope also groups the continent’s challenges as one, simplifying all the extraneous projections that have made it difficult for the continent to progress as one identity.

Shonibare’s representation is highly futuristic and balanced. His signature Dutch wax printed cotton textile (incorrectly called African print) which was also used in his installation of ‘The American Library’ is a conscious attempt at emphasizing cultural appropriation, one of the themes in his exhibition. Rooted in controversy, the symbol of the popular ‘African print’ serves as a relevant metaphor for the basic constructs of colonialism and its many aftermaths. If we could have overlooked so much in identifying with a symbol as common as our clothes, how much more do we need to reassess?  Ultimately, the goal is to deconstruct all that society imposes, ask the right questions and evolve.

 

 

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Abiodun Odusola
abiodunodusola@ymail.com
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