Where to start? He is a Nigerian man, who spent a lot of time in England, and Nigeria.
Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, most recently, film.
The aspect of his work I like the most is his use of fabrics. At first glance, they look like African prints, which led me to think he was just commenting on the destruction of African cultures by Europeans in their efforts to dominate the entire globe. There is that element to his work, but like dubstep MC’s are fond of telling us, it gets deeper.
The ‘African’ fabrics he uses are exported from Europe, and are based in Manchester, England and the Netherlands.
"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."
This is shown again in his work Nelsons ship in a bottle.
Yinka Shonibare proposes to make a scale replica of Nelson’s ship, HMS Victory, in a giant glass bottle. The ship’s magnificent sails will be produced in richly coloured and patterned textiles, which Shonibare buys from Brixton market in London. They are assumed to be African but in fact the fabric was inspired by Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch and sold to the colonies in West Africa. By the 1960s the material was popularly assimilated in Africa and became symbolic of African identity and Independence. Shonibare says his piece will reflect the story of multiculturalism in London today, which began as a result of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar: ‘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 UK.’
This one is called Scramble For Africa. I really enjoy the use of headless models, something he does a lot. It is a subtle yet effective way of making his point on cultural factors and power.