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"Yinka Shonibare: Entertaining, Seducing, Provoking,"
2004-05-14 until 2004-09-05
Kunsthalle Wien, Museumsquartier
Wien, , AT Austria

With an exotic display of color and fully charged scenarios, Yinka Shonibare entertains and seduces us; through historically precise costumes and arrangements, he presents to us history and stories – from the life of the British high society through to space travel, and, at the same time, by means of a special art of combinatorics, he sets off a great deal of disturbing effects. In the installation created for documenta 11, Gallantry & Criminal Conversation, for example, a coach floats over a group of headless aristocrats who orgiastically gorge themselves at a picnic. The cut of the costumes and the props correspond with an eighteenth century style. But is the scene also historically handed down? Why are the clothes made with fabrics printed with colorful African patterns?

Born in London in 1962, raised in Lagos, to later return to London, Yinka Shonibare tends to describe himself as a “post-colonial hybrid” and perhaps can be considered as an example of the increasing hybridization of unambiguous cultural or national definitions, which fundamentally changes the way we deal with culture in cosmopolitan times. Thus, upon closer inspection of the labels, the “African” fabrics prove to be products of Holland – what stories, what cultural transfers, what economies lie behind that? And what projections are involved when we automatically judge certain colors and patterns as “African”? “

In the first two pictures of the photographic tale Diary of a Victorian Dandy, a rich man wakes up in his grandiose bed. Maids with white caps rush into the bedroom, bring the master of the house his breakfast and attend to his every desire. The surprise: the man in bed is black, the servants are white.

Jean Fisher describes the artistic tactic that Yinka Shonibare uses to evoke the most diverse questions as one of “satirical subversion.” This comprises, “not showing that which we all already know as something shocking, but rather, showing the shocking aspect of that which we comfortably trust, to take away the familiarity of the everyday.” Thus, Yinka Shonibare’s “transgressive behavior” can also be seen as an antiheroic affront: as the tactic of the postmodern artist in the role of trickster, who does not practice head-on, but, instead, subversive resistance. In his own words, the artist says, “In my work, it is not fundamentally about the representation of politics, but the politics of representation.”

Yinka Shonibare uses various artistic media and materials; painting, photography, sculpture, and installation as well as reproduced picture and sign carriers or museum subjects from art history. In the exhibition, the concentration is consciously on his three-dimensional work. The intention is not to offer a “retrospective,” but rather, based on selected works, to enable various fundamental themes that occupy the artist to speak about themselves.

The exhibition in the Kunsthalle Wien, which is organized and curated in collaboration with the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, is Shonibare’s first major solo exhibition in the German speaking area.

Curators: Jaap Guldemond, Lucas Gehrmann, Gabriele Mackert. Accompanying the exhibition, published will be the monograph Yinka Shonibare. Double Dutch. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Kunsthalle Wien (eds.), with texts by Peter Baily, Manthia Diawara, Achille Mbembe, Angela McRobbie, Onyema OffoeduOkeke, John Picton, etc., 152 pp. with color illustrations., NAi publishers, Rotterdam, € 33,–

Yinka Shonibare
Space Walk, 2002
Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

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