Yinka Shonibare

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Yinka Shonibare MBE RA
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.
Nationality British/Nigerian
Movement Young British Artists
Website yinkashonibarembe.com

Yinka Shonibare MBE 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.

Life and career

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] and received an Honorary Doctorate (Fine Artist) of the Royal College of Art in 2010. He was elected Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013.[9] He joined Iniva's Board of trustees in 2009.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]


"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.[13] 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."[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]


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.[17] 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,[18] 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),[19] Reverend on Ice (2005)[20] (after The Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Raeburn) and The Swing (after Fragonard) (2001). [21] 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)[22] or Dorian Gray (2001)[23] 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."[24] 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.[25]

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.[26][27]

Shonibare has collaborated with Bellerby & Co, Globemakers.[28]

Selected artworks/exhibitions

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.

  • 1994 Double Dutch – small deep squares of stretched fabric painted over, on a shocking-pink wall[29]
  • 1997 Sensation A group exhibition drawn from the personal collection of Charles Saatchi – Shonibare had two Victorian style dresses in the show in the style of Dressing Down.[30]
  • 1997 Cha Cha Cha' – a pair of 1950s women's shoes, covered in fabric and encased in a perspex cube[31]
  • 1997 Feather Pink More squares of fabric, painted on both the front and edges, with a white background[32]
  • 1998 Diary of A Victorian Dandy – photographs of Shonibare in group setups reminiscent of A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, commissioned for the London Underground[33]
  • 1999 Dressing Down exhibition at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK.[34]
  • 1999 Dysfunctional Family – sculptures of aliens covered in fabric[35]
  • 2000 Vacation – Space-suited men covered in African fabric, busy up at the ceilings by the chandeliers[36]
  • 2001 Dorian Gray – black and white photographs of Shonibare as Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray[37]
  • 2001 The Swing (after Fragonard) – a headless lifesize recreation of Fragonard's model clothed in African fabric[21]
  • 2001 Henry James and Hendrik C. Andersen – two clothed headless lifesize models of the writer James and the sculptor Andersen, symbolising their friendship and commissioned by The British School at Rome[38]
  • 2001 The Three Graces – Three headless lifesize models of women of varying proportions, in Victorian dress made from African fabric[39]
  • 2002 Gallantry and Criminal Conversation – an installation including a suspended coach, wooden chests and 18 headless 18th-century figures engaged in copulation[40]
  • 2003 Maxa – circles of partially painted fabric on a deep blue wall[41][42]
  • 2004 Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)] – his first film, showing the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden through dance[21]
  • 2005 Lady on Unicycle – a headless Victorian lady in knickerbockers frozen mid-cycle[43]
  • 2008 Yinka Shonibare: solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia[44]
  • 2009 Yinka Shonibare: solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, USA.[45]
  • 2009–2010 Yinka Shonibare MBE: solo exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (organized and toured by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia)[46]
  • 2010–2012 Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, London, Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinth[24][47]
  • 2010 Before and After Modernism: Byam Shaw, Rex Vicat Cole, Yinka Shonibare MBE[48]
  • 2010 Trumpet Boy participating in FOUND, displayed at The Foundling Museum
  • 2013 FABRIC-ATION, The first major UK survey of work, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, England U.K.[49]
  • 2013 Wind Sculpture 1, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, England.[50]


  1. ^ "Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA) - Biography". www.yinkashonibarembe.com.
  2. ^ Martin Gayford (19 May 2010). "Fourth Plinth: Yinka Shonibare interview". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  3. ^ "a unique journal for discussion of arts and culture". disability arts online. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  4. ^ Japhet Alakam (1 May 2011). "Art-iculating Yinka Shonibare's hope in hopelessness". Vanguard. Nigeria. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  5. ^ a b Wilson, Lucy (10 January 2003). "Yinka Shonibare | Artists' stories | Artists talking". a-n. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  6. ^ Rosanna, Greenstreet (30 April 2011). "Q&A: Yinka Shonibare". The Guardian. London.
  7. ^ Bishop, Tom (19 October 2004). "BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Light at end of the Turner show". Newsvote.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  8. ^ "Yinka Shonibare, MBE in conversation with Raphael Chikukwa and Michele Robecchi". Contemporary Magazine. May 2006. Retrieved 2014-04-07.
  9. ^ "HONORARY FELLOWS OF GOLDSMITHS' COLLEGE" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  10. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE". Iniva. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  11. ^ "Blain|Southern | Artists | Yinka Shonibare MBE". Blainsouthern.com. Retrieved 2014-06-22.
  12. ^ "National Museum of African Art Will Be Home to New Landmark Sculpture on the National Mall". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  13. ^ "Yinka Shonibare: Adam Reynolds bursary". disability arts online. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  14. ^ deborah Sontag, "Headless Bodies from a Bottomless Imagination", The New York Times, 17 June 2009.
  15. ^ Yinka Shonibare, "What I see in the mirror", The Guardian, 4 January 2013.
  16. ^ "Shape Open Exhibition Patron announced".
  17. ^ Downey, Anthony. "Yinka Shonibare in Conversation". Wasafiri. 19.41.
  18. ^ "FOUND - Foundling Museum".
  19. ^ "Give & Take – Artist Information". Vam.ac.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  20. ^ "Reverend on Ice". Yinka-shonibare.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  21. ^ a b c "Turner Prize 2004: Yinka Shonibare". Tate. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  22. ^ "Diary of a Victorian Dandy". Iniva. 29 October 1998. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  23. ^ "Dorian Gray up close". Yinka-shonibare.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  24. ^ a b "Mayor of London presents Fourth Plinth | Yinka Shonibare MBE". London.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  25. ^ "Campaign closes as permanent new home secured for Nelson's Ship in a Bottle! – Captain's Log – Help bring Nelson's Ship in a Bottle to Greenwich". Artfund.org. 23 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  26. ^ "Norval Foundation Purchase Africa's First Yinka Shonibare Wind Sculpture". www.salonprivemag.com. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  27. ^ http://www.yinkashonibarembe.com/biography/
  28. ^ "Recent Work with Yinka Shonibare – Globemakers". Bellerbyandco.com. 2015-04-16. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  29. ^ [1] Archived 5 November 2004 at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ http://www.iniva.org/archive/resource/942
  31. ^ "Yinka Shonibare – 'Cha Cha Cha'". La Repubblica of the Arts. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  32. ^ "Yinka Shonibare – 'Feather Pink'". La Repubblica of the Arts. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  33. ^ [2] Archived 21 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^ R. J. Preece (15 September 2009). "Yinka Shonibare at Ikon Gallery (1999) | Review of exhibition Dressing Down in Birmingham, England". artdesigncafé. First published in Sculpture magazine, 18(6), p. 77, 1999. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  35. ^ "Dysfunctional Family, Yinka Shonibare". Yinka-shonibare.co.uk. 8 October 2000. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  36. ^ Universes in Universe – Pat Binder, Gerhard Haupt (4 November 2001). "Yinka Shonibare, Authentic / Ex-centric". Universes-in-universe.de. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  37. ^ "Dorian Gray". Yinka-shonibare.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  38. ^ "Yinka Shonibare, "Henry James and Hendrik C. Andersen", 2001". La Repubblica of the Arts. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  39. ^ "Yinka Shonibare, "The Three Graces"". La Repubblica of the Arts. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  40. ^ Universes in Universe – Pat Binder, Gerhard Haupt (15 September 2002). "Documenta 11: Yinka Shonibare, Binding Brewery". Universes-in-universe.de. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  41. ^ "Turner prize shortlist 2004: Yinka Shonibare, Maxa 2003 | Guardian Unlimited – Arts". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  42. ^ [3] Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  43. ^ [4] Archived 13 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  44. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE on Artabase". Artabase.net. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  45. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  46. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE || National Museum of African Art". Nmafa.si.edu. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  47. ^ "/". Slashstroke Magazine /. 26 May 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  48. ^ "Yinka Shonibare in conversation with Tim Barringer". Grace Barrett Fine Art. 6 December 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-16.
  49. ^ "Yorkshire Sculpture Park". Ysp.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-22.
  50. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE at Greenwich : Events : What's on". RMG. Retrieved 2014-06-22.

Further reading

  • Shonibare, Yinka, Rachel Kent, Robert C. Hobbs, and Anthony Downey. Yinka Shonibare, Mbe. Munich: Prestel, 2008. Print. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/228358419
  • Shonibare, Yinka, Jaap Guldemond, Gabriele Mackert, and Barbera . Kooij. Yinka Shonibare: Double Dutch. Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2004. Print. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/55649109

External links

Media related to Yinka Shonibare at Wikimedia Commons

  • Official website
  • 1 painting by or after Yinka Shonibare at the Art UK site
  • Yinka Shonibare, MBE at Stephen Friedman Gallery
  • Yinka Shonibare, MBE at James Cohan Gallery, New York
  • Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA) at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong
  • Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA) at Blain|Southern Galleries, Berlin
  • Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders Barnes Foundation exhibition catalogue, 2014
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