Empire in 3D: The Installations of Yinka Shonibare


"Flower Time" instillation by Yinka Shonibare courtesy of stephenfriedman.com.

“Flower Time” instillation by Yinka Shonibare courtesy of stephenfriedman.com.

Yinka Shonibare is a British-Nigerian artist who is perhaps most known for his work on “colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization.” He suffers from a disorder called transverse myelitis, which has caused one side of his body to be paralyzed. According to Shonibare himself: “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.”

Shonibare was born in London but moved with his parents to Nigeria at the age of three. He lived in Nigeria for all of his later childhood and teenage years and returned to London to finish their equivalent of high school and to attend college. He attained his Master’s of Fine Arts at Goldsmiths University of London, right in the center of the burgeoning Young British Artists movement. I will focus on two of his more well-known art pieces: Party Time: Re-Imagine America and Gallantry and Criminal Conversation.

Party Time: Re-Imagine America is a redecoration of the Ballantine House. The Ballantine House is a 19th century Victorian mansion in New Jersey with the house itself has becoming an exhibit. The piece takes the dining room of the Ballantine House and turns it on its head, showing a lavish dinner celebration complete with quail eggs, oyster shells, vines of grapes, wine, and more. All of the guests at the dinner do not have heads. The headless mannequin style is one of Yinka Shonibare’s signature elements. According to Shonibare, “A lot of my figures don’t have heads. I started doing that as a joke, about the French Revolution when rich people had their heads taken off. It’s a kind of metaphor really about the gap between the wealthy people and the not-so-wealthy people.”

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  1. Mutabazi

     /  September 8, 2014

    I don’t listen to Compact Discs. I play old tunes on vinyl. Perusing through thrift stores in search of a Sam Cooke, a Wendo Kolosoy, a Thelonious Monk, an Eduardo Sanchez de Fuentes, a Jimmie Rodgers, a Notorious B.I.G, a Mikhail Glinka, a Mariam Makeba, a Nana Mouskouri, or a Fela Kuti is as soothing as yoga. For me, any form of expression that ceases to be an experience and becomes an art form loses its glowing divinity. Thanks for sharing this experience!!!


  2. Nicolas

     /  October 8, 2014

    To be honest, I don’t like overtly political art. I usually find it too blunt, too “us vs. them”, a variation of the representation of a “they” or “this evil” concept.
    Yinka Shonibare is exactly the opposite, subtle, relating all the complexities of the political, yet not giving up any of the force, drama, and the impact that art is capable of.
    The piece shown on this post is wonderful in it’s use of African colors for the costumes, yet the costumer are of obviously of European form, the mannequin’s missing heads invites placing ones own in one of the persons, being part of the duel and it’s terrible aftermath, of which we’re all part anyways.


  3. Erin

     /  October 13, 2014

    One of the most striking things about Shonibare’s work, in my experience, is just that juxtaposition of elegance and violence–“death in the dining room,” here. Elegantly dressed mannequins holding guns and missing heads in his sculptural and installation works, or even his black body dressed in a morning coat, surrounded by ladies in waiting in the eighteenth-century English interior, Shonibare highlights the methods and the materials quite nicely. Fred Wilson did this well in “Mining the Museum” with slave shackles and a silver tea set paired in a display case, but Shonibare does it more consistently, and wonderfully, I think, without any redundancy.



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