In Two Major Exhibitions, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA Celebrates African Aesthetics and Cultural Hybridity
︳In a celebration of global cultural fusion, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA upends Western art historical portrayals of African customs in vibrant mixed-media collages and sculptures (previously). Merging textiles with fiberglass, brass, raffia, wooden masks, and more, the artist highlights our associations with specific materials, pairing them with elusive narratives.
In his series of Decolonised Structures, for example, Shonibare reinterprets memorial statues of figures like Queen Victoria by painting them head-to-toe in vivid patterns based on Dutch wax fabrics. The artist incorporates the colorful designs into backgrounds, like in the Modern Spiritual series of woodcuts, or clothes dancing figures in a variety of of styles, like in “Sun Dance Kids (Boy and Girl).” His use of the distinctive cotton textiles, common in West and Central Africa, reference complex colonial histories, alluding to “the legacy of African aesthetics and the history of modernism while conceptualising his sculptures as ritual objects with power in their own right,” says a statement for his exhibition Ritual Ecstasy of the Modern at Cristea Roberts Galler
︳In another solo exhibition in London, Free The Wind, The Spirit, and The Sun at Stephen Friedman Gallery, Shonibare taps into modern art history, especially the spirit of Dada, an early 20th-century avant-garde movement centered in Zürich that formed in response to World War I, rejecting the bourgeois and capitalist sensibilities of European society.
Dadaists protested traditional values of Western art by expressing nonsense and irrationality through a variety of media, including performance, music, and sculpture. Shonibare’s whimsical pieces parallel this history, which often evoked “African and Oceanic cultures to express animalism, originality, and freedom,” says a gallery statement.
︳Both exhibitions continue the artist’s recent interest in the collections of prominent modernists and their portrayals of African artifacts, especially Pablo Picasso and André Derain. Ceremonial masks play a prevalent role in Shonibare’s pieces, affixed to the heads of statues like “Hybrid Sculpture (Pan)” or painted and draped with raffia in the Hybrid Mask series. He draws attention to the ways in which the ritual objects have also been collected and depicted by Western artists. Shonibare says:
I discovered that Picasso had a collection of African art. I know by my art education that many modern artists were inspired by African art, and that Black culture was also very popular and very fashionable in the late ’20s, in Paris. We are going through a kind of African renaissance moment now, too, so I wanted to understand the origins of how Black culture became fashionable in Western modernism. I am kind of revisiting how the power of African aesthetics managed to inspire a whole movement in the west.
Ritual Ecstasy of the Modern continues through November 4 at Cristea Roberts Gallery, and Free The Wind, The Spirit, and The Sun opens on October 6 and runs through November 11 at Stephen Friedman Gallery’s new Mayfair location.
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