Yinka Shonibare MBE : Making Eden , Blain|Southern Berlin
15 February – 19 April 2014
Blain|Southern is delighted to present Making Eden, the first solo gallery exhibition in Berlin by internationally acclaimed artist Yinka Shonibare MBE.
Bringing together a body of entirely new work across two floors of the gallery, Making Eden explores the theme of revolution, drawing a stark contrast between the utopian ideals inherent in anarchic action and the darker realities of its consequences. Particularly pertinent in today’s global climate of social and political disillusionment, Shonibare explores both historical and contemporary cycles of revolution, seeking to demonstrate the destructive patterns of human behaviour that repeat themselves across time.
Making Eden interprets literally the notion of overthrowing the current social order in favour of an imagined ‘better place’. The exhibition functions in two halves: the ground floor mirrors this perceived utopian realm – a paradise that is reminiscent of heaven itself, while the upper floor is a representation of the grotesque reality of the corrupt and the fallen, as if the viewer is walking into hell. Indeed, Shonibare once described how ‘enlightened intentions, in sum, do not necessarily produce enlightened results’. This view is reflected in the horrific reality of the violence and death depicted, which has occurred as a direct result of revolution.
Ms Utopia (2013) stands in the downstairs gallery, a tall female figure clutching a towering bunch of African batik fabric flowers. Operating as a symbol of peace, she appears as the figurehead of this newly established ‘Eden’. However, the aesthetic allure of both the flowers and the fabric itself, as in much of Shonibare’s oeuvre, serves as a contradictory façade to the truths that are explored here. The batik fabric – which signifies authentic African heritage while being manufactured in the Netherlands and then distributed in the UK – continues Shonibare’s characteristic practice of using materials that allude to artifice and ambiguity, and to the unsettling fragmentation and hybrid construction of identity.
Also present in this section of the exhibition are Adam and Eve (2013) and Eden Painting (2013). The former is a sculpture of the two biblical characters resting beneath a tree, giving the viewer the unmistakable impression that they have stepped into a constructed paradise. The latter work is a large-scale wall piece which comprises a range of animals and images from the story of Noah’s Ark to create an otherworldly constellation that evokes idealistic sensations of unity, balance and harmony.
On the upper level, we encounter an opposing realm of chaos and bloodshed, in which works such as Revolution Ballerina (2013) and Impaled Aristocrat (2013) are situated. The latter is a male figure suspended in motion as he falls to his death; the aristocrat’s body has been pierced by a sword, providing a visual allegory of the potential backfiring or downfall of revolutionary processes.
Perched on a tightrope spanning the gallery space is Revolution Kid (Calf) (2013). The figure is an overbearing presence indicative of the act of protest, and suggests a tense balancing act that could in theory come plummeting down into the peaceful realm of ‘Eden’ below. Holding a golden gun in one hand and a blackberry phone in the other, the work possesses a number of subtle references; the handgun is modelled on that of Colonel Gaddafi’s at his moment of capture in 2011, while the blackberry phone alludes to the London riots of the same year, which were largely coordinated by teenagers via smartphones and social media. The figure, whose head has morphed into that of a calf’s, pays homage to the figure behind Liberty in Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830) – perhaps the most celebrated work on the theme of revolution in the history of art.
Making Eden ultimately serves to capture the double-edged, ambiguous nature of revolution, which is reflected by the exhibition’s polarised representations of its effects. For while perpetual cycles of uprising and demise can produce damaging results, they also function as necessary demonstrations of hope, and of the human propensity toward change for the better. Indeed, Shonibare acknowledges how, ‘In the short term, on an individual level, you have to work to get yourself to a better position; even if it’s some kind of utopia, you make an effort, you don’t sit back and allow yourself to be oppressed, you fight. I think that’s important. People have to judge history later on’.
Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders | at The Barnes Foundation, PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA
January 24 - April 21 2014
The Barnes Foundation presents Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders from January 24, 2014 through April 21, 2014. A British artist of Nigerian descent, Shonibare has exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe. His work alludes to European art and intellectual history and explores race, slavery, authenticity, and commerce. The works in the exhibition—approximately 15 sculptures, paintings, photographs, and a room installation—address themes of education, opportunity, and scientific and cultural discovery. This is the artist’s first major exhibition in Philadelphia, since his residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2004 and it includes a commission entitled Magic Ladders.
“Several of Shonibare’s sculptures refer to the Enlightenment and its ideals of rationality and exploration,” says Judith F. Dolkart, deputy director of art and archival collections and Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes. “Shonibare shares Dr. Barnes's belief that education can improve individual lives, benefitting society as a whole. Barnes turned his pharmaceutical factory into a progressive and integrated workplace, where he devoted two hours of each eight-hour workday to discussions on philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics with his employees.”
Shonibare’s sculptures—life-sized mannequins clothed in the colorful Dutch wax fabrics produced in Europe but closely associated with Africa—offer a provocative examination of European colonialism and European and African identities. The artist also investigates the idea of the outsider, intrigued and perhaps drawn to a dominant culture yet remaining distinct from and peripheral to it. Shonibare, who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004, was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth II. He uses his title professionally, if ironically, to highlight the ambiguousness of status, identity, and belonging.
The Foundation’s collaboration with Shonibare pays homage to Barnes’s interest in contemporary art and artists. The centerpiece of the exhibition is the Barnes commission Magic Ladders, which explores childhood learning and the opportunities that education can create. In considering the exhibition and commission, the artist reviewed the complicated and decades-long correspondence between Barnes and Leo Stein, a fellow collector and an important advisor and friend as Barnes built his art collection and educational foundation. In Magic Ladders, three children ascend ladders constructed of books written or read by Albert Barnes. Other recent sculptures in the exhibition, Planets in My Head, Philosophy (2011); Planets in My Head, Physics (2010); and Pedagogy Boy/Boy (2011), echo the theme of the magical, transformative discoveries of childhood learning.
The exhibition invites viewers to reflect upon Barnes’s collecting practice, particularly in terms of its connections to colonialism. One of the first American collectors to regard African sculpture as fine art rather than ethnographic curiosity, Barnes displayed African masks and figures alongside paintings by Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani. A champion of education for African Americans, Barnes made his collection of African art broadly available to black readers through Opportunity magazine. Ironically, his acquisition of African art was made possible by the imperialist colonization of Africa, a theme explored in Shonibare’s monumental Scramble for Africa (2003).
Victorian Philanthropist’s Parlour (1996–1997), a room elaborately and excessively decorated with Dutch wax fabrics and garnished with objects placed symmetrically on a mantle, is for Shonibare a meditation on taste, status, and empire. In the context of the Barnes collection’s distinctive wall ensembles, it might prompt the viewer to consider methods of display.
Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders has been organized by Judith F. Dolkart, deputy director of art and archival collections and Gund Family Chief Curator and will be on view in the Aileen and Brian Roberts Gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 84-page book by Ms. Dolkart, containing a short essay and entries for works in the exhibition, some of them accompanied by reproductions of documents from the archive of the Barnes Foundation.
Globe Head Ballerina
2012 Yinka Shonibare MBE
Yinka Shonibare Globe Head Ballerina
Yinka Shonibare's Globe Head Ballerina modelled on The Royal Ballet's Melissa Hamilton.
A unique artwork by Yinka Shonibare, Globe Head Ballerina is the latest public sculpture by the artist. This piece is a life size work based on a photograph of ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Typical of Shonibare’s previous work, the costume is made of African Dutch wax fabric and the dancer has a Victorian-style globe as her head. Encased within a large snow globe style sphere the ballerina rotates on Pointe.
Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, Fibreglass, steel, brass, resin, UV ink on printed cotton textile, linen rigging, acrylic and wood
Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle
at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare MBE is a 1:30 replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, on which he died during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. It has 80 cannon and 37 sails set as on the day of battle. The richly patterned sails were inspired by Indonesian batik, mass-produced by Dutch traders and sold in West Africa. Today these designs are associated with African dress and identity. The characteristic bright colours and abstract symmetries of Dutch Wax fabric have accrued many complex, often ambivalent associations – with colonialism, industrialisation, emigration, cultural appropriation, and the invention (and reinvention) of tradition – all of which are foregrounded in Shonibare’s work. Used for the rigging of Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, the legacy of Dutch Wax assumes a further, distinctly maritime significance. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004, the same year in which he was awarded an MBE (an appellation that he uses when exhibiting and signing works).
Currently on permanent display at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
To look at previous exhibitions see Press