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Yinka Shonibare is a United Kingdom-based Nigerian artist and sculptor, who is popularly known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism with his artwork within the contemporary context of globalisation. In this piece, SEYI GESINDE writes about what makes
him unique among his contemporaries.
Yinka Shonibare, born in London in 1962 to Nigerian parents, later moved to Lagos with his family when he was three years old. But when he clocked 16 years of age, he went back to the United Kingdom for his A-Levels examinations, after which he secured admission into an art school.
There in the UK, Yinka was infested with a disease which was later known to be “transverse myelitis,” an inflammation across the spinal cord, at age 17, just a year after he began his studies.
The severity of this disease eventually resulted in a long term physical disability for Yinka.
Yet, Yinka did not allow this to affect his studied at Byam Shaw College of Art where he graduated with a Fine Art degree and later at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he received his MFA in 1991.
Thereafter, he worked as an arts development officer for SHAPE, an organisation which makes arts accessible the less-privileged.
Prior to this period, his wife had given birth to their son, christened Kayode Shonibare-Lewis, now said to be an indie game developer and 3D artist.
Yinka created a unique style for himself in the art world and he became popular for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation.
His work spans races and classes, making use of sculpture, photography, film and performance. With this wide range of artistic expertise, Yinka looks through “the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories.”
It was this idea that pushed him to make the Fourth Plinth of the Trafalgar Square, London, which was commissioned on Monday, May 24, 2010.
This effort of a Nigerian abroad which was fully supported by the Mayor of London and Arts Council England, and sponsored by a Nigerian bank has really stood him out among colleagues abroad.
The art work called: Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle is said to be a “scale replica of HMS Victory in a giant bottle.”
This artwork has been classified as “the first commission on the Fourth Plinth to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, and will link directly with Nelson’s column.”
Apart from that, it is said to be “the first commission by a black British artist” and that person is a Nigerian – Yinka Shonibare.
Yinka, explaining the making of his 37 large sails ship, said it was made of richly patterned textiles commonly associated with African dress and symbolic of African identity and independence.
According to him, “the history of the fabric reveals that they were inspired by Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch and sold to the colonies in West Africa.
“Tying together historical and global threads, the work considers the legacy of British colonialism and its expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson’s Victory provided.”
Yinka, given the UK’s highest honour of Member of British Empire (MBE), by the Queen, said his piece reflects the story of multiculturalism in London.
“For me it’s a celebration of London’s immense ethnic wealth, giving expression to and honouring the many cultures and ethnicities that are still breathing precious wind into the sails of the United Kingdom.
“A ship in a bottle is an object of wonder. Adults and children are intrigued by its mystery. How can such towering masts and billowing sails fit inside such a commonplace object? With Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle I want to take this childhood sense of wonder and amplify it to match the monumental scale of Trafalgar Square.”
Yinka presented the art work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nigerian Independence.