Yinka Shonibare

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yinka Shonibare

Shonibare & Hibiscus Rising (2023)
Born (1962-08-09) 9 August 1962 (age 61)
London, UK
MovementYoung British Artists

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (born 9 August 1962), is a British artist living in the United Kingdom. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. A hallmark of his art is the brightly coloured Ankara fabric he uses. As Shonibare is paralysed on one side of his body, he uses assistants to make works under his direction.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

"Wind Sculpture" (London, 2014)

Yinka Shonibare was born in London, England, on 9 August 1962, the son of Olatunji Shonibare and Laide Shonibare.[2][3] When he was three years old, his family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where his father practised law. When he was 17 years old, Shonibare returned to the UK to take his A-levels at Redrice School.[4][5] At the age of 18, he contracted transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, which resulted in a long-term physical disability where one side of his body is paralysed.[6][7]

Shonibare studied Fine Art first at Byam Shaw School of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) and then at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he received his MFA degree, graduating as part of the Young British Artists generation. Following his studies, Shonibare worked as an arts development officer for Shape Arts, an organisation that makes arts accessible to people with disabilities.[3][8]


In 1999, Shonibare created four alien-like sculptures that he named "Dysfunctional Family", the piece consisting of a mother and daughter, both coloured in textures of white and blue, and a father and son textured in the colours of red and yellow.[9]

He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and at leading museums worldwide. He was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor at documenta XI in 2002 to create his most recognised work, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation, which launched him on the international stage.[citation needed]

In 2004, he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize for his Double Dutch exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and for his solo show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Of the four nominees, he seemed to be the most popular with the general public that year, with a BBC website poll resulting in 64 per cent of voters stating that his work was their favourite.[10]

Shonibare became an Honorary Fellow of Goldsmiths' College in 2003, was awarded an MBE in 2004,[11] received an Honorary Doctorate (Fine Artist) of the Royal College of Art in 2010 and was appointed a CBE in 2019.[12] He was elected Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013.[13] He joined Iniva's Board of trustees in 2009.[14] He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and internationally at leading museums worldwide. In September 2008, his major mid-career survey commenced at the MCA Sydney and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in June 2009 and the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, in October 2009. In 2010, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle became his first public art commission on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.[15]

On 3 December 2016, one of Shonibare's "Wind Sculpture" pieces was installed in front of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art (NMAA) in Washington, DC. The painted fibreglass work, titled "Wind Sculpture VII", is the first sculpture to be permanently installed outside the NMAA's entrance.[16]

He runs Guest Projects,[17] a project space for emerging artists based in Broadway Market, east London. He is extending this to spaces in Lagos, Nigeria.[18]

Hibiscus Rising sculpture from above. LEEDS 2023.

In 2023 his first work of public art was unveiled in Leeds. Entitled Hibiscus Rising, it commemorates the life and death of David Oluwale, a Nigerian homeless man persecuted by Leeds City Police.[19]


Nelson's Ship in a Bottle (London, 2010) by Yinka Shonibare during its occupancy of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

Shonibare's work explores issues of colonialism alongside those of race and class, through a range of media which include painting, sculpture, photography, installation art, and, more recently, film and performance. He examines, in particular, the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Mining Western art history and literature, he asks what constitutes our collective contemporary identity today. Having described himself as a "post-colonial" hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. While he often makes work inspired by his own life and experiences around him, he takes inspiration from around the world; as he has said: "I'm a citizen of the world, I watch television so I make work about these things."[20]

A key material in Shonibare's work since 1994 is the brightly coloured "African" fabric (Dutch wax-printed cotton) that he buys himself from Brixton market in London. "But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think," says Shonibare. "They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it's the fallacy of that signification that I like. It's the way I view culture – it's an artificial construct." Shonibare claims that the fabrics were first manufactured in Europe to sell in Indonesian markets and were then sold in Africa after being rejected in Indonesia.[21] Today the main exporters of "African" fabric from Europe are based in Manchester in the UK and Vlisco Véritable Hollandais from Helmond in the Netherlands. Despite being a European invention, the Dutch wax fabric is used by many Africans in England, such as Shonibare.[22] He has these fabrics made up into European 18th-century dresses, covering sculptures of alien figures or stretched onto canvases and thickly painted over.[citation needed]

Shonibare is well known for creating headless, life-size sculptural figures meticulously positioned and dressed in vibrant wax cloth patterns in order for history and racial identity to be made complex and difficult to read.[23] In his 2003 artwork Scramble for Africa, Shonibare reconstructs the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, when European leaders negotiated and arbitrarily divided the continent in order to claim African territories.[24] By exploring colonialism, particularly in this tableaux piece, the purpose of the headless figurines implies the loss of humanity as Shonibare explains: "I wanted to represent these European leaders as mindless in their hunger for what the Belgian King Leopold II called 'a slice of this magnificent African cake.'"[25] Scramble for Africa cannot be read as a "simple satire", but rather it reveals "the relationship between the artist and the work".[26] It is also an examination of how history tends to repeat itself. Shonibare states: "When I was making it I was really thinking about American imperialism and the need in the West for resources such as oil and how this pre-empts the annexation of different parts of the world."[27]

Shonibare's Trumpet Boy, a permanent acquisition displayed at The Foundling Museum, demonstrates the colourful fabric used in his works. The sculpture was created to fit the theme of "found", reflecting on the museum's heritage,[28] through combining new and existing work with found objects kept for their significance.[citation needed]

He also recreates the paintings of famous artists using headless mannequins with Batik[29] or Ankara textiles instead of European fabrics.[30] He uses these fabrics when depicting European art and fashion to portray a 'culture clash' and a theme of cultural interaction within postcolonialism.[31] An example of some of these recreations would be Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews Without Their Heads (1998)[32] and Reverend on Ice (2005)[33] (after The Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Raeburn).[citation needed]

One artist he recreated multiple works of was Jean Honoré Fragonard. He recreated Fragonard's series The Progress of Love (1771-1773), which included his works The Meeting, The Pursuit, The Love Letter, and The Swing.[34] A unique inclusion within these recreations, was the inclusion of branded fabric. The Swing (After Fragonard) (2001) has the woman on the swing wearing an imitation or 'knock-off' Chanel patterned fabric. The use of this fabric was meant to further explore the themes of post-colonialism, globalism, and cultural interaction that are present throughout much of his work, while also commenting on the consumerism and consumer culture of the modern world and how all of these themes intersect.[20]

Shonibare also takes carefully posed photographs and videos recreating famous British paintings or stories from literature but with himself taking centre stage as an alternative, black British dandy – for example, A Rake's Progress by Hogarth, which Shonibare translates into Diary of A Victorian Dandy (1998),[35] or his Dorian Gray (2001),[36] named after Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Considerably larger than a usual ship in a bottle, yet much smaller than the real HMS Victory, in fact a 1:30-scale model, Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, was "the first commission on the Fourth Plinth to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, and will link directly with Nelson's column."[37] The work was placed there on 24 May 2010 and remained until 30 January 2012, being widely admired. In 2011, the Art Fund launched a campaign and successfully raised money for the purchase and relocation of the sculpture to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, where it found its new permanent home.[38]

Other works include printed ceramics, and cloth-covered shoes, upholstery, walls and bowls.[citation needed]

In October 2013, Shonibare took part in Art Wars at the Saatchi Gallery curated by Ben Moore. The artist was issued with a stormtrooper helmet, which he transformed into a work of art. Proceeds went to the Missing Tom Fund, set up by Ben Moore to find his brother Tom, who has been missing for more than 10 years. The work was also shown on the Regent's Park platform as part of Art Below Regents Park.[citation needed]

The Goodman Gallery announced in 2018 that the Norval Foundation, South Africa's newest art museum based in Cape Town, has made a permanent acquisition of Shonibare's Wind Sculpture (SG) III, making it a first for the African continent. The sculpture will be unveiled in February 2019, increasing the British-Nigerian artist's visibility on the continent where he grew up.[4][39]

Shonibare has collaborated with Bellerby & Co, Globemakers.[40]

Selected artworks/exhibitions[edit]

Shonibare's first solo exhibition was in 1989 at Byam Shaw Gallery, London. During 2008–09, he was the subject of a major mid-career survey in both Australia and the USA; starting in September 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), Sydney, and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in June 2009 and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, in October 2009. For the 2009 Brooklyn Museum exhibition, he created a site-specific installation titled Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play which was on view in several of the museum's period rooms. Another site-specific installation, Party Time—Re-Imagine America: A Centennial Commission was simultaneously on view at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, from 1 July 2009, to 3 January 2010, in the dining-room of the museum's 1885 Ballantine House.[citation needed]


  • In 2004, Shonibare was granted the title Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). He ironically incorporates the title into his official artistic identity, as he states that it is "better to make an impact from within rather than from without… it's the notion of the Trojan horse... you go in unnoticed. And then you wreak havoc."[41]
  • In 2019, Yinka Shonibare was awarded and decorated with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[42]
  • Yinka Shonibare received the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award in March 2021.[42] He is the 8th recipient of this award. The award celebrates artists who have made significant contributions to a particular medium.[43]


Shonibare is now disabled,[8][44] physically incapable of making works himself, and relies upon a team of assistants, operating himself as a conceptual artist.[45]

Shonibare's disability has increased with age, resulting in him using an electric wheelchair. In later life, Shonibare has discussed his disability and its role within his work as a creative artist.[46] In 2013, Shonibare was announced as patron of the annual Shape Arts "Open" exhibition where disabled and non-disabled artists are invited to submit work in response to an Open theme.[47]


  1. ^ "Yinka Shonibare, CBE (RA) | Biography". yinkashonibare.com. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  2. ^ "Shonibare, Yinka, (born 9 Aug. 1962), visual artist, since 1991". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2010. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U251465. ISBN 978-0-19-954088-4. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
  3. ^ a b Greenstreet, Rosanna (30 April 2011). "Q&A: Yinka Shonibare". The Guardian. London.
  4. ^ a b "Biography". Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA).
  5. ^ Gayford, Martin (19 May 2010). "Fourth Plinth: Yinka Shonibare interview". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  6. ^ "a unique journal for discussion of arts and culture". disability arts online. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  7. ^ Alakam, Japhet (1 May 2011). "Art-iculating Yinka Shonibare's hope in hopelessness". Vanguard. Nigeria. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  8. ^ a b Wilson, Lucy (10 January 2003). "Yinka Shonibare | Artists' stories | Artists talking". a-n. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  9. ^ "Dysfunctional Family" at Walker.
  10. ^ Bishop, Tom (19 October 2004). "BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Light at end of the Turner show". Newsvote.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  11. ^ "Yinka Shonibare, MBE in conversation with Raphael Chikukwa and Michele Robecchi". Contemporary Magazine. May 2006. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  12. ^ "New Year Honours 2019: Twiggy, Michael Palin and Gareth Southgate on list". BBC News. 28 December 2018. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  13. ^ "HONORARY FELLOWS OF GOLDSMITHS' COLLEGE" (PDF). Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  14. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE". Iniva. 1 February 2009. Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  15. ^ "Blain|Southern | Artists | Yinka Shonibare MBE". Blainsouthern.com. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
  16. ^ "National Museum of African Art Will Be Home to New Landmark Sculpture on the National Mall". Smithsonian. 1 December 2016. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  17. ^ "Guest Projects". Guest Projects. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  18. ^ Shonibare, Yinka (13 January 2020). "Yinka Shonibare: 'I see what's happening as an African renaissance'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  19. ^ "LEEDS 2023 – CEO Kully Thiarai: 'The Awakening' show will light a torch of creativity for the year ahead". Asian Culture Vulture. 7 December 2022. Retrieved 1 March 2024.
  20. ^ a b Hynes, Nancy; Picton, John (2001). "Yinka Shonibare". African Arts. 34 (3): 60–95. doi:10.2307/3337879. ISSN 0001-9933. JSTOR 3337879.
  21. ^ Downey, Anthony (Spring 2004). "Yinka Shonibare in Conversation" (PDF). Wasafiri. 19 (41): 31–36. doi:10.1080/02690050408589884. S2CID 161297901. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  22. ^ Downey, Anthony; Shonibare, Yinka (2005). "Yinka Shonibare". BOMB (93): 24–31. ISSN 0743-3204. JSTOR 40427696.
  23. ^ Stamberg, Susan (16 November 2009). "Headless Actors on a Global Playground". NPR. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  24. ^ Lacayo, Richard (26 July 2009). ""Decaptivating"". Time. Vol. 173, no. 26. p. 60 – via EBSCOhost.
  25. ^ "FOCUS: Yinka Shonibare MBE | Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth". themodern.org. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  26. ^ Reilly, Samuel (April 2020). ""History Repeats"". Apollo. 191 (685): 36–41 – via Proquest Central.
  27. ^ "Yinka Shonibare MBE || Scramble for Africa". africa.si.edu. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  28. ^ "The Foundling Museum acquires two major works of art". Foundling Museum. 1 November 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  29. ^ Kaiser, Amanda (8 September 2003). "Batik Chic". WWD. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  30. ^ Shirey, Heather (31 July 2018). "Engaging Black European Spaces and Postcolonial Dialogues through Public Art: Yinka Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle". Open Cultural Studies. 3 (1): 366. doi:10.1515/culture-2019-0031. ISSN 2451-3474. S2CID 194345604.
  31. ^ Hopkins, David (2018). After Modern Art: 1945-2017. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-19-921845-5.
  32. ^ "Mr and Mrs Andrews without their Heads, 1998". Yinka Shonibare CBE RA. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  33. ^ "Reverend on Ice". Yinka-shonibare.co.uk. Archived from the original on 9 September 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  34. ^ Müller, Bernard (1 October 2007). "Le " Jardin d'Amour " de Yinka Shonibare au musée du quai Branly ou : quand l'" autre " s'y met". CeROArt. Conservation, Exposition, Restauration d'Objets d'Art (in French) (1). doi:10.4000/ceroart.386. ISSN 1784-5092.
  35. ^ "Diary of a Victorian Dandy". Iniva. 29 October 1998. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  36. ^ "Dorian Gray up close". Yinka-shonibare.co.uk. Archived from the original on 12 February 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  37. ^ "Mayor of London presents Fourth Plinth | Yinka Shonibare MBE". London.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 24 June 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  38. ^ "Campaign closes as permanent new home secured for Nelson's Ship in a Bottle! – Captain's Log – Help bring Nelson's Ship in a Bottle to Greenwich". Artfund.org. 23 April 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  39. ^ "Norval Foundation Purchase Africa's First Yinka Shonibare Wind Sculpture". salonprivemag.com. 27 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  40. ^ "Recent Work with Yinka Shonibare – Globemakers". Bellerbyandco.com. 16 April 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  41. ^ STILLING, ROBERT (2013). "An Image of Europe: Yinka Shonibare's Postcolonial Decadence". PMLA. 128 (2): 299–321. doi:10.1632/pmla.2013.128.2.299. ISSN 0030-8129. JSTOR 23489062. S2CID 153937722.
  42. ^ a b "Yinka Shonibare, CBE (RA) | Biography". yinkashonibare.com. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  43. ^ "Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon with Swarovski". Whitechapel Gallery. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  44. ^ "Yinka Shonibare: Adam Reynolds bursary". disability arts online. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  45. ^ Sontag, Deborah (17 June 2009). "Headless Bodies from a Bottomless Imagination". The New York Times.
  46. ^ Shonibare, Yinka (4 January 2013). "What I see in the mirror". The Guardian.
  47. ^ "Shape Open Exhibition Patron announced". Shape Arts. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Shonibare, Yinka; Kent, Rachel; Hobbs, Robert C.; Downey, Anthony (2008). Yinka Shonibare, MBE. Munich: Prestel. OCLC 228358419.
  • Shonibare, Yinka; Guldemond, Jaap; Mackert, Gabriele; van Kooij, Barbera (2004). Yinka Shonibare: Double Dutch. Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. OCLC 55649109.

External links[edit]