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Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA (born 1962) is a British-Nigerian artist living in the United Kingdom. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. A hallmark of his art is the brightly coloured Dutch wax fabric he uses. Because he has a physical disability that paralyses one side of his body, Shonibare uses assistants to make works under his direction.

Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare at the Royal Academy, October 2015.jpeg
Yinka Shonibare at the Royal Academy, October 2015
Born (1962-08-09) August 9, 1962 (age 56)
London, U.K.
MovementYoung British Artists


Life and careerEdit

Yinka Shonibare was born in London in 1962. When he was three years old, his family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where his father practised law. At 17, he returned to Britain to do his A-levels at Redrice School.[1][2] Shonibare contracted transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, at the age of 18, which resulted in a long-term physical disability where one side of his body is paralysed.[3][4] He then studied Fine Art first at Byam Shaw School of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) and then at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he received his MFA, graduating as part of the Young British Artists generation. Following his studies, Shonibare worked as an arts development officer for Shape Arts, an organization which makes arts accessible to people with disabilities.[5][6]

He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and at leading museums worldwide. He was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor at documenta XI in 2002 to create his most recognised work Gallantry and Criminal Conversation that launched him on an international stage.

In 2004, he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize for his Double Dutch exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and for his solo show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Of the four nominees, he seemed to be the most popular with the general public that year. A BBC website poll, resulted in 64% of voters stating that his work was their favourite.[7]

Shonibare became an Honorary Fellow of Goldsmiths' College in 2003, was awarded an MBE in 2004,[8], received an Honorary Doctorate (Fine Artist) of the Royal College of Art in 2010 and was awarded a CBE in 2019[9]. He was elected Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013.[10] He joined Iniva's Board of trustees in 2009.[11] He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and internationally at leading museums worldwide. In September 2008, his major mid-career survey commenced at the MCA Sydney and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York in June 2009 and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC in October 2009 . In 2010, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle became his first public art commission on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.[12]

On December 3, 2016, one of Shonibare's "Wind Sculpture" pieces was installed in front of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. The painted fiberglass work, titled "Wind Sculpture VII", is the first sculpture to be permanently installed outside of the NMAA's entrance.[13]


"I do have a physical disability and I was determined that the scope of my creativity should not be restricted purely by my physicality. It would be like an architect choosing to build only what could be physically built by hand." says Shonibare.[5] Shonibare readily acknowledges physical disability as part of his identity but creates work in which this is just one strand of a far richer weave.[14] Because of his disability, he is physically incapable of carrying out the making of the work himself, and relies upon a team of assistants to realise his artistic vision for him. In this context, conceptualism takes on a new angle. "That Shonibare became a conceptual artist who delegates much of the production of his labor-intensive projects to a network of other artists is partly a result of his disabling illness."[15]

Shonibare's disability has increased with age; as his mobility has become further restricted with time, he has begun to use an electric wheelchair. In later life, Shonibare has become more open to discussing his disability and its role within his work as a creative artist.[16] In 2013, Shonibare was announced as patron of the annual Shape Arts "Open" exhibition where disabled and non-disabled artists are invited to submit work in response to an Open theme.[17]


Nelson's Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare during its occupancy of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

Shonibare’s work explores issues of colonialism alongside those of race and class, through a range of media which include painting, sculpture, photography, installation art, and, more recently, film and performance. He examines, in particular, the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Mining Western art history and literature, he asks what constitutes our collective contemporary identity today. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial’ hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. People always took his work seriously and he said " if love someone fight for them with your hands"

A key material in Shonibare's work since 1994 is the brightly coloured "African" fabric (Dutch wax-printed cotton) that he buys himself from Brixton market in London. "But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think," says Shonibare. "They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture – it’s an artificial construct." Shonibare claims that the fabrics were first manufactured in Europe to sell in Indonesian markets and then they were sold in Africa, when they were rejected in Indonesia.[18] Today the main exporters of "African" fabric from Europe are based in Manchester in the UK and Vlisco Véritable Hollandais from Helmond in the Netherlands. He has these fabrics made up into European 18th-century dresses, covering sculptures of alien figures or stretched onto canvases and thickly painted over.

Shonibare's Trumpet Boy, a permanent acquisition displayed at The Foundling Museum, demonstrates the colorful fabric used in his works. The sculpture was created to fit the theme of 'found', reflecting on the museum's heritage,[19] through combining new and existing work with found objects kept for their significance.

Sometimes, he recreates famous paintings using headless dummies with the "Africanised" clothing instead of their original costumes, for example Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews Without Their Heads (1998),[20] Reverend on Ice (2005)[21] (after The Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Raeburn) and The Swing (after Fragonard) (2001). [22] An added layer to the Fragonard piece is that the fabric used is printed with the Chanel logo (though it is obviously not real Chanel fabric).

Shonibare also takes carefully posed photographs and videos recreating famous British paintings or stories from literature but with himself taking centre stage as an alternative, black British dandy, e.g., A Rake's Progress by Hogarth which he translates into Diary of A Victorian Dandy (1998)[23] or Dorian Gray (2001)[24] after Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Considerably larger than a usual ship in a bottle, yet much smaller than the real HMS Victory, in fact a 1:30 scale model, Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, was "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."[25] The work was placed there on 24 May 2010 and remained until 30 January 2012. Being widely admired, in 2011 the Art Fund launched a campaign and successfully raised money for the purchase and relocation of the sculpture to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich where it now found its new permanent home.[26]

Other works include printed ceramics, and cloth-covered shoes, upholstery, walls and bowls.

In October 2013 Shonibare took part in Art Wars at the Saatchi Gallery curated by Ben Moore. The artist was issued with a stormtrooper helmet, which he transformed into a work of art. Proceeds went to the Missing Tom Fund set up by Ben Moore to find his brother Tom, who has been missing for more than ten years. The work was also shown on the Regent's Park platform as part of Art Below Regents Park.

The Goodman Gallery announced in 2018 that the Norval Foundation, South Africa's newest art museum based in Cape Town has made a permanent acquisition of Yinka Shonibare's Wind Sculpture (SG) III, making it the a first for the African continent. The sculpture will be unveiled in February 2019, increasing the British-Nigerian artist's visibility on the continent where he grew up.[27][28]

Shonibare has collaborated with Bellerby & Co, Globemakers.[29]

Selected artworks/exhibitionsEdit

Shonibare's first solo exhibition was in 1989 at Byam Shaw Gallery, London. During 2008–09, he was the subject of a major mid-career survey in both Australia and the USA; starting in September 2008 at the MCA Sydney and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York in June 2009 and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC in October 2009. For the 2009 Brooklyn Museum exhibition, he created a site-specific installation titled Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play which was on view in several of the Museum’s period rooms. Another site-specific installation, Party Time—Re-Imagine America: A Centennial Commission was simultaneously on view at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, from 1 July 2009, to 3 January 2010, in the dining room of the museum’s 1885 Ballantine House.


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit