Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA)


Ballet God (Zeus), 2015
Ballet God (Zeus), 2015
Ballet God (Zeus), 2015 Fibreglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, lightning, gun, globe, pointe shoes and steel baseplate 92 7/8 x 61 x 55 1/16 in. (236 x 155 x 140 cm)

Rage of the Ballet Gods, James Cohen Gallery, New York

30 April - 20 June, 2015

This new body of work, Shonibare contemplates the changing state of the Earth’s climate and the human instinct for survival in the face of the extreme weather experienced worldwide. The artist is well known for his employment of historical events as metaphors with which to explore current geo-political and social conditions, and Rage of the Ballet Gods points to the progress of rational thought—a legacy of the Age of Enlightenment—that underlies the scientific advances propelling us towards environmental doom. Inspired to make a poetic statement, Shonibare turns to mythology to uncover this paradox. The exhibition is divided in two parts: Rage and Escape.

In Rage, the Greek gods Apollo, Zeus and Poseidon are depicted as ballerinas. These iconically male figures have been transformed into emblems of female grace, with detailed tutus made of Shonibare’s signature Dutch wax fabric. Yet these beautiful ballerina goddesses are dangerous, in a violent rage against humans for their willful and continual destruction of Earth. They carry deadly weapons—a gun, a knife and a sword—along with their familiar trident, thunder bolt and golden lyre. Their heads of Victorian-style globes map the occurrence of lightening, warming and tsunamis around the world.

Shonibare faces the subject with characteristic playfulness as he reveals the irony of the situation: throughout mythology, it is the Gods who used weather events such as storms, earthquakes and droughts to punish humans. In Homer’s Odyssey, the jealous Poseidon punishes the hero Odysseus with violent storms that turn his ship around and keep him, time and time again, from returning to his home in Ithaca. Here, however, the Gods are enraged because the humans have usurped their prerogative as creators of terrifying weather events. Shonibare’s gods are upset that traditional order of the world has been turned upside down and that the transcendent truths, on which the history of mankind is based, are disappearing.

The four walls of the main gallery—North, South, East and West—features photographic tondos of Medusa based on Caravaggio’s portrait in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The four works in the series depict women of different races— European, Asiatic, Indian and African—representing the four corners of the world. Medusa broke her vow of celibacy and married the god Poseidon, for which, as punishment, the goddess Athena turned her golden locks into a morass of snakes. Shonibare’s Medusa has a tangle of snake hair made from African textiles.

Escape, the second part of the exhibition, concerns escape from the apocalypse. The works serve as a humorous yet prophetic warning that we may need to seek new ground should the Earth become uninhabitable. Shonibare’s Refugee Astronaut is a disheveled space traveler toting his worldly possessions on his back—pots, pans, butterfly net, stool and family photographs—ready to find a new oasis. A pair of Butterfly Kid sculptures depict a boy and girl sprouting wings, metamorphosing to fly away and escape.

Rage of the Ballet Gods sees Shonibare connecting with myth to find solace in the fantastical during an unnerving time. He hopes to provoke what the scholar Joseph Campbell called the “psychic unity of mankind,” which Campbell felt was engaged through the poetic expression of mythology. The artist reaches back to “an experience of the eternal source and returns with gifts powerful enough to set society free.”

Concurrent with the gallery show, Shonibare is featured in three solo exhibitions: Colonial Arrangements at the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, NY (opening May 1, 2015); Pièces de résistance at the DHC/Art foundation in Montreal (opening April 28, 2015); and his first Asian retrospective exhibition at the Daegu Art Museum in Korea (opening June 2015).


Colonial Arrangements, Morris-Jumel Mansion, New York

May - August 2015

Elaborate, colorful, seductive and quizzical, Yinka Shonibare’s renowned, textile-based art has been the focus of more than 50 solo museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide. The latest, Colonial Arrangements, will take place, from April to August 2015, at Morris-Jumel Mansion. It’s a fitting match, with the Mansion’s lovingly preserved 18th- and 19th-century interiors set to serve as a baroque backdrop for Shonibare’s Shonibare’s extraordinary, quizzical sculpture, including an entirely new, never-before-seen work, commissioned by the Mansion. It’s the most ambitious art show in Morris-Jumel history, and it kicks off May 1st with an opening night reception. The reception is free, though reservations are required.

Morris-Jumel Mansion 


Pièces de résistance, DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montréal

28 April - 20 September, 2015

Shonibare has become known worldwide for his use of Dutch-wax fabric as a conceptual and formal device in all of his work. While stereotypically associated with Africa, the origins of Dutch-wax fabric are actually found in Indonesian batik techniques, which were then industrialized and appropriated by European interests. With its mixed and mistaken provenances, Dutch-wax fabric provides a sumptuous yet probing vehicle to evoke the complexity of concepts such as identity, authenticity, ethnicity, representation, hybridity, race, class, migration, globalization, and power.

Yinka Shonibare MBE employs a multiplicity of strategies, including auto-ethnography and humour in combination with art historical and literary references, to deliver a body of work that is simultaneously seductive and subversive. His critical reflection on power relations between Africa and Europe is delivered through a formal treatment that is both lavish and decadent. In a related area of investigation, he reveals his affection and respect for British culture and institutions while simultaneously questioning class and privilege. It is this ambivalence that most productively unsettles simple binaries and reveals the intricacies involved in negotiating his subject matter.

In 2005, Shonibare was awarded the decoration of Member of the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (MBE). While other Black British artists have turned down this distinction, this acronym has been officially added to his professional name as it underscores the tensions that emerge through his work in regards to the experience of being at once inside and outside, of belonging and of marginalization.



The William Morris Family Album, William Morris Gallery

7 February - 7 June 2015

The Gallery's first major commission: a Morris-inspired photographic exhibition by Turner Prize nominee Yinka Shonibare MBE

The William Morris Family Album will see the British Nigerian artist work with Waltham Forest residents to recreate photographs of Morris’s family from the Gallery’s collection. Some of the sitters will wear Victorian costume, refashioned from “African” batik fabric created especially for the project. The work will encourage viewers to reflect on Morris’s political views by connecting his socialist ideals with the history of Empire.

Morris is a natural subject for Shonibare, whose interest in the Victorian Age, imperialism and the global textile trade has informed much of his work. Inspired by his visits to the Gallery, Shonibare worked with curators to explore Morris’s ideas and the wider social context of Waltham Forest.

The free exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive education and events programme.



Yinka Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture comes to Howick Place, Victoria

24 February 2014

A striking, site-specific sculpture by internationally-renowned artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE has been given the green light by Westminster Council, as part of Howick Place in Victoria, London.

Doughty Hanson & Co Real Estate and Terrace Hill, the joint developers behind the new landmark building at 1-5 Howick Place, commissioned Wind Sculpture through art consultants HS Projects. It is expected to be installed in Wilcox Place this spring and will serve as an integral part of the area’s development, which is rapidly becoming Victoria’s vibrant new ‘cultural quarter’.

Wind Sculpture, measuring 6 metres by 3 metres, will explore the notion of harnessing movement, through the idea of capturing and freezing a volume of wind in a moment in time. The work will echo the sails from his Fourth Plinth commission in Trafalgar Square, ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’, now on permanent display outside the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

The captivating piece will have special resonance at Howick Place, named after Viscount Howick, later 2nd Earl Grey, one of the main architects of the Reform Act 1832, Catholic emancipation and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Wind Sculpture continues Shonibare’s focus on themes of colonialism, trade, and race and will employ the artist’s signature use of batik Dutch wax fabric designs - materials which have become synonymous with African identity.

Designed by award winning architects Rolfe Judd, Howick Place is architecturally stunning and includes just over 143,000 sq ft of commercial space and 23 luxury residential apartments, with spacious terraces offering expansive views over London’s most iconic sights. Situated midway between the fashion centres of Bond Street and Sloane Street, Howick Place is also recognised as a sought-after destination among a community of stylish tenants. It has already attracted the Head Office of Giorgio Armani S.p.A, to 5 Howick Place, with international auction house Phillips, the design studio of Marc Newson and HQ’s of luxury brands Tom Ford and Jimmy Choo – with Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Moët Hennessy and Richemont a stone’s throw away. Reflecting this sense of art and culture, Wind Sculpture, is the developers’ contribution to the ongoing renaissance of the area.


Globe Head Ballerina
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, 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

©2015. All images are property of Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA). Original Website by Moira Stevenson. Website Updated and Maintained by Adam Thornton.