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Indepth Arts News:

"Yinka Shonibare"
2004-02-21 until 2004-04-25
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Rotterdam, , NL Netherlands

In collaboration with the Kunsthalle Wien, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen organizes a large exhibition devoted to the work of Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare (London, 1962). Installations, photography and paintings form part of this exhibition, which can be seen from February 21 until April 25, 2004.

The last couple of years, Yinka Shonibare has enjoyed increasing international renown with his tableaux vivants of historical figures dressed in African print. Although typically African, these fabrics have been made in factories in Helmond and Manchester. The fascinating origin of these fabrics runs from colonial history in the Dutch East Indies to the trade carried out by Dutch merchants in West Africa.

The extraordinary thing however is that wearing these African prints or Dutch Wax fabrics is regarded by West-Africans as an expression of African pride. By applying these fabrics regularly in his work, and by referring within it to Western (art) history, Shonibare poses questions like: what is cultural identity, what is the heritage of the colonial past, and how do the two relate to each other?

In the photographic works he produces, Shonibare also plays with role reversals between classes and castes, between black and white. In the series Diary of a Victorian dandy, for instance, a black dandy is featured surrounded by white servants. In a humorous way, Shonibare shows us how European prosperity is connected to the imperialistic exploitation of the overseas territories.

Multicultural society

One of the works that will be shown at the exhibition is The Swing (2001), after a painting by the 18th century French artist Fragonard. Here, the lady’s skin colour is light brown, instead of the peach-coloured complexion Fragonard uses. She is seductive, but overripe and wears a voluptuous dress with an African motif. As in several other works of his, the head is missing. The figure has a mannequin-like quality, which underlines the interchangeability of identity. In a playful, humorous and visually stunning way Shonibare raises important issues in his work concerning today’s multicultural society. This provocative ambiguity is fascinating to a wide audience.


Yinka Shonibare was born in London (1962), and moved to Lagos, Nigeria when he was three years old. As a typical product of a post-colonial British upper class education and a Nigerian background, Shonibare wound up in the heady London art scene during the early Eighties. Here, he became aware of the discrepancies between background, education and day to day reality. He began to produce works in which he combined typically Western ideas about art, in a confrontational way, with a so-called non-Western language of form.

What’s striking is the exuberant visualness of Shonibare’s work, in which aesthetic seduction plays just as important a role as the ideas that are at the basis of the work.

During the past years, Yinka Shonibare has taken part in important international art exhibitions, such as the Venice Biennale (2001) and the Documenta in Kassel (2002). He also had shows in dozens of other museums in other parts of the world. His work has been included in important collections in Europe and the United States.

The exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is his first solo presentation in the Netherlands. As early as 2001, some of his work could be seen there during the ‘Unpacking Europe’ exhibition. Accompanying this exhibition, a catalogue will be published in which specialists will elaborate on the aforementioned themes. The catalogue will be bilingual and contain approximately 160 pages.

Yinka Shonibare ,br>Gallantry and Criminal Conversation
Mixed Media Installation

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