Yinka Shonibare was born in London in 1962 and moved to the Nigerian capital of Lagos when he was just three years old. He studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, London in 1984-9 and completed a BA at Goldsmiths College, London in 1991. Shonibare considers himself truly bi-cultural and strives to open up debate about the social, cultural and political issues that shape our histories and construct identity. His works challenge assumptions about representation by playfully blurring the boundaries between stereotypically Western ideas about high art and traditional categorisations of African art.
He is best known for his use of colourful batik fabric, which he buys from Brixton market. Labelled as African, the fabric actually originates from Indonesia; it was introduced to Africa by British manufacturers via Dutch colonisers in the nineteenth century. Shonibare uses the fabric as a metaphor to address issues of origin and authenticity and to challenge straightforward readings of his work.
In Maxa 2003, Shonibare substitutes the canvas for small regimented circles of African fabric that are decorated on the front and sides like icing on a cake. These perfect circular forms create visual chaos and offer a political challenge to ideas about taste. The problematic history of the fabric undercuts the visual pleasure of the patterns as the work becomes a metaphor for excess and exploitation. Shonibare creates high art from commonplace cloth, asking us to consider the excesses of commercial decadenceand its relationshio with third-world exploitation.
The Swing (after Fragonard) 2001 re-presents a celebrated eighteenth-century painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard of a young woman kicking out her legs from underneath a froth of petticoats while lounging on a swing. Luxury, wealth and frivolity are symbolised through dress, though fabric branded with a modern commercial logo supplies a humorous twist.
Un Ballo in Maschera (a Masked Ball) 2004 is Shonibare’s first film. It presents the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792 through the medium of dance. Costume highlights ambiguities of identity and gender, while the lack of dialogue and repetition of the action ask us to consider the conventions of narrative and the structure of film.
Yinka Shonibare has been shortlisted for his exhibition Double Dutch at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam and his solo show at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.