Through the pioneering work of Yinka Shonibare MBE, we are reminded of the colloquial saying, the past is not the past. The past haunts and crescendos in our fevered questions and ideas around identity, culture, and authenticity. Across his multidisciplinary practice, we encounter the charged objects and iconography that loom in the legacies of the great epic of colonialism.
Shonibare’s work is often cloaked in terms like ‘interventional’ or ‘unveiling’, and framed as interruptions or refractions – signifiers used to describe the ways in which his work pulls to the anterior, histories that underscore our contemporary modalities of globalisation and hybridity. From his sculptures to his films, Shonibare’s works are filled with principles of deconstruction and a sense of urgency or complicity in response to the world we inhabit. This is also evident in his curated projects, such as the exhibition Talisman in the Age of Difference, which took place in London this summer and featured works by a multigenerational span of artists across the African Diaspora, illustrating the ways form can respond to ideas of subversive resistance.
One of the highlights of the third edition of ART X Lagos is Shonibare’s presence throughout the three-day fair. Behind the scenes, Shonibare was one of five judges for the ART X Prize with Access, which awarded Bolatito Aderemi-Ibitola a grant and a solo presentation during the fair.
Curator Missla Libsekal, who is spearheading the fair’s programming for the second year, has focused The Curated Projects on Shonibare by organising a special archival display of the artist’s past works. The project will showcase a new costumed sculptural figure, Trumpet Boy, and documentation of the recent Public Art Fund commission, Wind Sculpture (SG) I, unveiled earlier this year at Doris C Freedman Plaza, Central Park, New York. Accompanying the display are related archival ephemera, video footage, and photographic materials, making this the only installation of its kind throughout the fair. Shonibare is also participating in The Talks series, delivering the keynote address, and sitting in conversation with historian, Chika Okeke-Agulu.
“I felt that the legacy of colonialism and the fight for independence is a much more pressing issue across the African continent.”
Ahead of his involvement with ART X Lagos, Shonibare premiered Ruins Decorated in Johannesburg, the artist’s first solo presentation on the continent in fifteen years. The show included new works in sculpture, photography, film, and painting that explored concepts of cultural hybridity, modern African identities, and symbols of colonial essentialism. It featured the installation, The African Library, the third in the series of libraries previously presented in the U.S. and in London. The work pays tribute to people who’ve made huge contributions to the struggle for African Independence, with thousands of books wrapped in Dutch wax textiles, and the names of the various people involved in the Independence struggles and post-colonial figures of self-governance detailed on the spines. “When I’ve done that project in the U.S. and in London,” Shonibare says, “they’ve been mostly focused on the issue of immigration, so on the spines of the books there, I’ve included names of first or second generation immigrants. Within in the African context, I felt that the legacy of colonialism and the fight for independence is a much more pressing issue across the African continent.” These works commemorate the ongoing narrative of a continent shaping a new and modern identity for itself.
Shonibare’s future engagement with the art and cultural ecosystems in Nigeria will not slow down anytime soon, as he is in the process of building a facility for an artist residency programme in Lagos. “I will be able to host international artists there to present projects in Lagos and have a residency there,” shared Shonibare, as his team prepares to break ground on the construction in Lekki before the year’s end
An article by Ladi’Sasha Jones
Featured image : Yinka Shonibare, The African Library, 2018. Hardback books, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, gold foiled names and website. Dimensions variables. Courtesy the artist, Collection of Davidson College, and James Cohan Gallery, New York.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | ART X Lagos Artpaper. [French version inside]
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