Yinka Shonibare MBE

Yinka Shonibare MBE

April - September 2014

As part of the 5 Howick Place Exhibition Programme, that continues the dialogue with the artist’s recently commissioned ‘Wind Sculpture’ for Howick Place, his focus on themes of colonialism, trade, and race, and his signature use of batik Dutch wax fabric designs.

‘Champagne Kid (Fallen)’ 2013 features a young boy caught in a moment of precarious exuberance and illicit celebration. On the floor with his legs in the air, the boy appears to have just toppled over his chair, while clutching a fizzing bottle of Cristal champagne. In the place of his head, one of Shonibare’s trademark globes illustrates the drastic losses in the stock and assets of Lehman Brothers, who declared bankruptcy in 2008. The sculpture calls to mind City whizz kids enjoying a moment of lavish excess, here literally knocked to the floor. With characteristic wit, this playful sculpture is a striking and yet subtle social commentary on our times. Combined with the carnivalesque pose of the animated figure, 'Champagne Kid (Fallen)’ presents a powerful interpretation of our current state of affairs, as the innocent younger generation is set to inherit the excess of recent times.

In ‘B(w)anker (2)’ 2013 Shonibare presents a sharply suited rotund figure, with an exploding magnum of champagne. The cork explodes from the neck as fizz sprays out suggestively in a moment of raucous celebration. This portly gentleman presents himself as an upstanding member of society but is here caught off guard in a moment of debauched jubilation. The banker is tailored in a bespoke Victorian suit made in Shonibare’s signature wax batik fabric, the dress coat particularly highlighted with a bright explosive patterning. On closer inspection, the fobs on his gold chain include charms of golden nuggets and a ‘Veuve Clicquot’ bottle of champagne. The ‘B(w)anker (2)’ is a humorous reminder of a bygone era known for valuing class, money and indulgence: powerfully bringing to mind our own generation’s financial predicament. A commentary on the excess of the banking world, this work is a playful and provocative sculpture that is at once beautiful and bold.

The Totem Paintings (1-5) 2011 combine African textiles with thick, impasto paint, bringing bright colours together with intense black. Tall and slender, their forms relate to the totems of the title. The nails that protrude from the edges of the canvas are a direct reference to African ‘minkisi’ figures made by the Kongo people of west-central Africa. These carved wooden objects were believed to have immense power, containing a spirit that was called upon to protect families or whole villages, to put right various wrongs such as crimes, and to exact vengeance and punishment. Hammering nails into the minkisi was intended to activate their spirits, with additional nails added every time the spirit was invoked. Minkisi were deemed sinister and threatening by colonial forces and were often seized – a symbolic gesture demonstrably removing power from the indigenous population. It was at this time that they became known as ‘fetish’ objects, emphasising the supposed strange savageness of the people who had made them. Many of the figures were brought back to England as curiosities. One of the Totem Paintings has Dutch Wax fabric featuring UFOs, as though to emphasise further the perception of the minkisi and the cultures they hail from as alien. This is the first time this series has been shown together in London.