Friday 2 September 2011

From Shonibare, British touch on art of motherland

  (First published, Tuesday, 26 April 2011)
 By Tajudeen Sowole
IN the next few years, Nigerian art would start receiving a boost from one of the world’s most exciting artists, British-born Nigerian, Yinka Shonibare (MBE) who, last week, in Lagos began a journey aimed at giving back to his homeland what it takes to be on the global view.
Yinka Shonibare, speaking inn Lagos.
SHONIBARE, 49, who, in the mid 1990s started making strong impact with his art – almost at the same period a new generation known in the art parlance as Young British Artists (YBA) brought a radical change and pushed the country’s art to an unprecedented high across the world – is seen as the new face of African and British arts.
During the visit, which was his first since he left Nigeria at 17, he toured some art galleries in Lagos Islands and met artists at a gathering organized by Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island Lagos. About 24 hours ahead of the gathering,

Shonibare explained that, though he had been in touch with Nigerian art through artists who visited the U.K., “I need to know more, so it’s good for me to come here and meet other artists.”
Among the high points of his career that, probably, led to his homecoming is the artist’s recent work, the Nelson Ship, a mixed media sculpture mounted at the Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, London last year.
From his several outings in the mid 1990s, which brought him to limelight, to the famous installation, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation Documenta 11 (2002), Africa Remix and Bicentenary group art exhibition held in London in 2007, the artist had blended multiculturalism themes to make statements on colonialism and arrogant aristocrats. Sometimes, the figures are headless bodies, but dressed in brightly colour Dutch origin adapted African fabrics.
And when commissioned to do the Trafalgar Square work, the African fabric identity was unavoidably included as part of the Nelson Ship in a bottle. “That is the scale of my ambition in Nigeria, among other projects I like to do here,” he stated.
For an artist whose work, notoriously, indicts the British’s penchant for colonialism, the local authority’s choice of Shonibare as the artist, ironically, was well deserved. Also, it’s a lesson in freedom of expression for developing countries like Nigeria. “The Trafalgar Square sculpture started as a competition for a commission by Greater London Authority. The Mayor of London invited few artists to put up a proposal, then short listed, and I won the commission,” he stated.
In a city such as Lagos that has been undergoing transformation in the past six years, Shonibare’s assessment of the art space appears to vindicate the government’s efforts at making the state attractive to Nigerians in the Diaspora and foreign investors. “It’s very encouraging to see that the city is beautified. I am excited, actually; very clean and different from when I was here 30 years ago. There is a room for improvement though and am ready to make my contributions.”
Another area of contention, which the artist would have to confront here, is the lack of adequate gallery space for exhibition. During his visit to the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), this much was a subject of discussion when the director of CCA, Bisi Silva and founder of AAF, Azu Nwagbogu briefed the artist on the challenges artists here face, regularly.
Having contributed to the emergence of the new generation of British artists, helping to replicate same in Nigeria, he explained would require change in attitude of the people, towards artists. “We need a society that supports young artists because artists can’t do it alone. You need the galleries to show their works, collectors to buy the works and critics to explain the works. You cannot be an artist in a vacuum.”
He noted that hard times make artists forego their career and take unrelated jobs. And for those who try to combine art and other jobs, “it means they wont have time to develop their works. This is partly why am here to make contributions to help get patronage for Nigerian artists. It will be good to have art fairs in Nigeria.”
One of the attributes of the young artists of Shonibare’s generation in the U.K. is their ability to bring radical change, through works that confront and challenge the establishment. This much he has done with his work, particularly at the bicentenary show in London. He stated that artists in that part of the world “can be very rebellious; we exposed, challenge authority. In England people love it, it’s not a big problem. I know that in Nigeria, in the pasts, those who criticised authority ended up in the prison. Nigeria is different now; there is democracy. So, hopefully, artists can speak out against the authority. Every developed society has freedom of expression. So, the exhibition I did in London was critical of the British establishment in relation to slavery. I didn’t get to trouble for that even though I had the show at the national gallery, which is the most important gallery ion England, I got away with it.”
One of the challenges Shonibare might have here is lack of public funding for art.
“In the U.K. the system encourages big companies to put money in art projects, such as funding by government, particularly, from taxpayers’ money as well as other sources. Through this, the companies get wider advertising, compared to what they get through direct advertising.”
The work at Trafalgar, for example, he stressed, is a boost for the image of the corporate group that supported it, Guarantee Trust Bank, GTB.

Shonibare's historic meeting with artists in Lagos
By Tajudeen Sowole
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 00:00
NIGERIAN-BORN British artist, Yinka Shonibare (MBE) will discuss his artistic trajectory of the past two decades as he presents key themes from his vast and diverse artistic practice.
The event, according to the organizers, Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos holds at the centre on Saturday, April 23, 2011.
Yinka Shonibare, speaking at the event

When the sculptural piece, Fourth Plinth, mounted at London’s Trafalgar Square, was unveiled recently, Shonibate’s artistic prowess was again in focus. The work, a scale model of Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in a bottle, has been described as one of the most exciting art pieces on London’s landscape.
In 2004 Shonibare was short listed for the
Turner Prize. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and internationally at leading museums Across the world.
Bisi Silva of CCA, Lagos
Interestingly, Shonibare’s visit would be coming after some Nigerian artists would have left the country to participate in the ARS11 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland. The 2011 ARS show, director of CCA, Bisi Silva explained takes Africa as its focal point. One of the leading artists of the show, is veteran photographer, J.D. Okhai Ojeikere. Among these artists are approximately 30 contemporary artists, whose work engage with Africa from various perspectives are scheduled to feature at this gathering. Among the many exhibiting artists are several who are currently based in Nigeria such as El Anatsui, Emeka Ogboh, and Abraham Oghobase. Other participating artists include Georges Adéagbo, Samba Fall, Laura Horelli, Alfredo Jaar, Otobong Nkanga, Nandipha Mntambo, Odili Odita and Barthélémy Toguo.
Shonibare was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art  ?rst at Byam Shaw College of Art (now Cen-
tral Saint Martins College of Art and Design)  and later at Goldsmiths College, where he  received his MFA—graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation. Shonibare  has become well known for his exploration of  colonial and post-colonial themes. His work  explores these issues through the media of  painting, sculpture, photography and, more  recently, ?lm and performance.
artists, collectors and other participants

With this wide range of media, Shonibare examines in par-  ticular the construction of identity and the  tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Having described himself as a ‘post- colonial’ hybrid, Shonibare questions themeaning of cultural and national identity.

Shonibare’s visit is supported by the Menil Collection, Houston as part of the preliminary research for work to be presented in the forth-coming exhibition Love and Africa (2012-13) taking place in Houston and Lagos in collaboration with CCA, Lagos.

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