artnet Asks: Yinka Shonibare

His postmodern sculptures uproot the white-washed art canon.

Yinka Shonibare. Photo courtesy of James Cohan, New York, by James Mollison.
Yinka Shonibare. Photo courtesy of James Cohan, New York, by James Mollison.

Yink Shonibare was born in London and lived in Nigeria with his family until the age of 16, when he moved back to London for school. At age 18, he fell ill with a debilitating disease that rendered one half of his body paralyzed. With the assistance of artists, Shonibare creates paintings, sculpture, photography, and installations that explore the “artificial construct” of the Western art canon. His signature is his use of what appears to be African textiles that, with closer investigation, have cross-cultural roots—the main exporters of this type of textile are based in the UK and the Netherlands. In another cross of cultures, Shonibare uses the textiles to reenact classic scenes in art history, for instance Fragonard’s The Swing or Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. His poignant work has been widely recognized and exhibited internationally, including at the Venice Biennale, documenta XI, and the Brooklyn Museum. In 2004, he was on the shortlist for the Turner Prize for his “Double Dutch” exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rottendam. He lives and works in London.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?  
When I was at school. I enjoyed art lessons and knew I wanted to carry it on as a career

Yinka Shonibare, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, Fourth plinth Comission at Trafalgar Square, London , fibreglass, steel, brass, resin, UV ink on printed cotton textile, linen rigging, acrylic and wood, 114 1/8 x 206 3/4 x 92 1/2in.

Yinka Shonibare, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, Fourth Plinth Commission at Trafalgar Square, London
Fiberglass, steel, brass, resin, UV ink on printed cotton textile, linen rigging, acrylic, and wood
Photo courtesy of the artist.

What inspires you?
I am often inspired by artists and musicians who think outside the box and who are not ‘mainstream’ in their approach. I like the work of Yayoi Kusama. I like Fela Kuru, and I like the musician Tricky because he’s creative and interesting to watch.

Yinka Shonibare, Self Portrait (After Warhol) 1, unique screen print, digital print and hand painted linen, 53 x 52 7/8 x 2 1/4in.

Yinka Shonibare, Self Portrait (After Warhol) 1
Unique screen print, digital print, and hand-painted linen
Photo courtesy of the artist.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?  
It would be a James Turrell light installation because I’m going through a spiritual period, and I want something I find calm and spiritual, such as his light pieces.

Yinka Shonibare, Adam and Eve (2013) Fibreglass mannequins, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, fibreglass, wire and steel baseplates, 112 x 91 x 45 in.

Yinka Shonibare, Adam and Eve (2013)
Fibreglass mannequins, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile, fiberglass, wire, and steel base plates
Photo courtesy of the artist.

What are you working on at the moment?
I have two exhibitions in New York in the spring that I am working on, and a large exhibition later next year that will tour Asia. I am always thinking toward the next exhibition

When not making art, what do you like to do?  
To run a supper club, read books, and go to the cinema. I also like going to the opera, watching live music, and going to the ballet.


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