Artist biography

British sculptor, painter and installation artist. He grew up in Nigeria before returning to England to study Fine Art in London at Byam Shaw School of Art and Goldsmiths College. Shonibare's West African heritage has been at the heart of his work since he started exhibiting in 1988, when he began using ‘Dutch-wax' dyed fabrics, commonly found in Western Africa, both for wall-mounted works (as pseudo paintings) and for sculpted figures. Generally perceived as ‘authentic', such materials were used by Shonibare as a way of deconstructing the more complex histories that determine these and other images of ethnicity. Although informed about the debates that took place in the late 1980s around the work Asian or black British artists he resisted being typecast as an artist dealing with identity politics alone. Poised between Nigerian and British culture, Shonibare produced a playful, witty and inquisitive art from the collision between the two. Fusing painting, sculpture, craft and costume design, his work has been impossible to classify by medium alone. In 1999 he was nominated for the Citibank Photography Award on the basis of Diary of a Victorian Dandy, a series of photographic tableaux loosely based on Hogarth's Rake's Progress. This work not only reflects on his own ethnicity in a multi-racial society, but also comments on class distinctions, on popular English taste for period costume dramas and on the tendency of the British to express a nostalgia.

K. Mercer: ‘Art that is Ethnic in Inverted Commas', Frieze (Nov–Dec 1995)
Yinka Shonibare: Dressing Down (exh. cat., essay O. Enwezor, Birmingham, Ikon Gal., 1999)

15 January 2001

Article provided by Grove Art Online