Sunday 2 February 2014

Magic Ladders, Dreaming Rich, charity... Shonibare widens anti-establishments mission

By Tajudeen Sowole
British artist of Nigerian descent, Yinka Shonibare, MBE, appears to be having a loaded schedule, recently, widening the scope of his art outside Europe.

  Just as he closed a two-months long solo art exhibition Dreaming Rich at Pearl Lam Galleries in Hong Kong, last week, Shonibare, few days. ago opened another solo show titled Magic Ladders, at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, U.S, ending in April, 2014.

From Yinka Shonibare’s Magic Ladder

Born in Lagos and raised in the U.K Shonibare is an artist who implores sculptural works of mostly mannequins to critique colonialism, the aristocrats in themes that challenge the socio-economic establishments.

In a short documentary posted by Barnes Foundation for the exhibition, Shonibate says it’s an exciting moment for him to be commissioned by a collection as big as Barnes. Though a commissioned exhibition, the works, according to the gallery will be taken away by the artists after the event.

For the exhibits in Magic Ladders, the artist brings quite a vast medium into the gallery, including sculpture, painting, video installation and photography.

The Deputy Director of Art and Archival Collections at The Barnes Foundation, Judith Dolkart describes Shonibare's works as “magical,” The works, she argues “in many ways, touches on the core mission of the Barnes.”

Dolkart believes the artist and the founder of the collection, Dr Banes, share a lot in common. His work, she stresses connects with the vision of the foundation. "This show focuses on education, enlightenment, and opportunity, ideals embraced by Dr. Barnes.”
 She adds that Shonibare was very much interested in themes such as enlightenment, education, opportunity and social mobility. These, she insists, were of interest to Dr. Barnes who has “always shown interest in being anti-establishment.”

Shonibare discloses that he was interested when contacted to produce the works for Barnes Foundation "because it is a well known collection and Dr Barnes has been very progressive championing a lot of African-Americ0an artists.”

 And as the works evolved, he recalls how a debate surfaced about questioning white male domination. This much, he explains, spurred him into “deconstruction of identity” to engage the notion of domination by a class or gender.

  Typical of Shonibare’s work, the culptural pieces retain the Dutch wax fabric otherwise known as Ankara in the Nigerian local parlance, And for the artist, he recalls how ironic it was for him when awarded the MBE. "I thought it was ironic when I was awarded the MBE because my work critique the aristocrats." He. However adds that "though I challenge the aristocrats, I also long to be part of it."

  The ladder theme in the show is represented in books focusing children and inspiring them that "your background does not have to hold you back" to achieve success. 
 Shortly before heading to Philadelphia, Shonibare’s passion in lifting the spirit of the young ones, particularly the physically challenged resonates at a fundraising for disabled artists in the UK.
 He partners with patron for Shape the disability-led arts organisation in a venture tagged Championing the Shape Christmas Appeal for 2013

Planets-in-My-Head-Philosophy (2011).

In collaboration with Shape media partners ‘Disability Arts Online’, Shonibare creates awareness about the life-changing work that Shape does in effort to make the arts accessible across everyone.
The artist who is also physically challenged urges people to donate whatever they can to help reach a target of £40,000, hoping that the donation "will automatically be doubled by the Catalyst Arts Match Fund run by the Arts Council."

He narrates how his career started with Shape. “When I left Goldsmith’s College, I was looking for opportunities to develop my career. Shape offered me my first opportunity to be involved in the arts. What Shape does for disabled artists can make a very big impact on their development. It was certainly the case for me. For that, I’m very grateful.”

Shonibare started working at Shape in 1992 – since working at Shape he moved on to achieve some incredible things. Most note able of his works is a public art commission on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2010, known as 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle'. This year, he was elected Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts.

  At the Dreaming Rich show, the artist's notion of longing to be aristocrat surfaced, perhaps in satirical tone, so it seems as a leading piece of the exhibits, Cakeman, expressed in life-sized sculpture depicts an aristocrat dressed in loud Victorian design, typical of the artist’s Dutch wax African batik fabric identity. The work appears to draw attention to the common perception between Africa and China about wealth and colonialism.

“Dare to dream rich and you may lose your head, fail to dream rich and you risk dying of poverty,” says an instructive extract from the inscriptions attached to the exhibition.

Of recent, he was one of four artists of African origins including Ghanaian and Nigeria-based El Anatsui; Porto Novo, Benin Republic-based Romuald Hazoumè; and South African, Mary Sibande who swelled the 2013 collection of Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, U.S.

Three of the artists' works, according to the museum,
were purchased for TMA by a group of donors known as The Apollo Society.

And came the reappearance of Shonibare's most popular public space work, the 18th century wartime vessel, Nelson’s Ship in A Bottle. Produced in 2010 as a temporary exhibit of Fourth Plinth sculpture, it was mounted at Trafalgar's Square, but finally found a permanent home outside the National Maritime Museum.  
  Supported by Guaranty Trust Bank {GTB} -  it had generated huge attention,  parts of the components include the artist’s traditional Dutch Wax fabric identity.

The facilitator of the permanent place for Nelson’s Ship In A Bottle, the Royal Museums Greenwich, says on its website: “We are delighted to announce that thanks to the generosity of many individuals, the fundraising appeal to buy Yinka Shonibare, MBE’s sculpture Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle for the National Maritime Museum and ensure it remains on permanent display has been a success. The work, which is a scaled down replica of HMS Victory, now has a permanent new home outside the recently opened Sammy Ofer Wing.”

During his last visit to Nigeria Shonibare toured some art galleries and other related facilities in Lagos Islands and met artists at a gathering organized by Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island Lagos. He explained that, through he had been in touch with Nigerian art via artists who visited the U.K., “I need to know more, so it’s good for me to come here and meet other artists.”

It was his first visit since he left Nigeria in the 1980s at 17. But he notes that Lagos has grown faster than he imagined: “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.”

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