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Yinka Shonibare - Biography

* 1962 London, United Kingdom; lives there.
Member of the Order of the British Empire

The British-born Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare trained at the Goldsmiths College of Art, London and is known for his sculptural installations, including headless figures in Victorian attire made of "African” wax-prints. He rose to international prominence following his inclusion in the now historic Sensation exhibition organized by the Saatchi Gallery, London, to announce the ascendance of the so-called Young British Artists in 1997.

In his work, he examines the complex history of empire and postcolonialism, asserting the dependence of post-imperial and postcolonial subjectivities on the legacies of colonialism, and the way these deep, often unacknowledged interdependencies inform the political, cultural and economic tensions that structure Europe's relationship with its former colonies. Moreover, Shonibare draws on episodes of post-Renaissance, European art—especially classicism, Rococo and Romanticism—for his elegant, theatrical, and sometimes darkly humorous, headless characters whose activities conflate history and fantasy, but also the comedic dimensions and tragic outcomes of human action. His work often traces a fine line, indeed sits comfortably on, the slippery border, between elite visual pleasures and social etiquette, and the rampant immorality and violence that forms the basis of colonial and imperial socio-political order (Gallantry and Criminal Conversation, 2002; Mr and Mrs Andrews Without Their Heads, 1998).

This simultaneous invocation of pleasure and violence is most evident in Shonibare's sculpture installation, Colonel Tarleton and Mrs Oswald Shooting (2007), included in Who Knows Tomorrow?, depicting a Victorian couple hunting pheasant. Created after a portrait by the 18th-century British Academician, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the piece shows headless Colonel Tarleton, an avid advocate of slavery, and Mrs Oswald, whose husband Richard Oswald amassed great wealth from slave plantations. Although an elite sport, Shonibare turns the scene into a sight of decadent savagery, and a metaphor of the violence of slavery and colonization. The drama of this scene is heightened by its setting: in the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, among a gallery of marble sculptures that symbolize Prussian cultural accomplishment and its enlightened ethos. It inevitably calls to attention the complex nexus of slavery, colonialism and German history.

His installation, The Scramble for Africa (2003), dramatically re-imagines the Berlin-Congo conference of 1884/5, organized by the then German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, to formalize European colonial claims on African territories. The theatrical, discordant gestures of the artist's signature headless figures insinuate the political intrigues and chicanery responsible for the chaotic intra-European squabble Bismarck sought to settle with the conference.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London (2010); Odile and Odette, ACA Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta (2008); Yinka Shonibare MBE, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. (2008–2010); Scratch the Surface, National Gallery, London (2007); Jardin d'amour, Musée du quai Branly, Paris (2007); Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection, Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum, New York (2005); Double Dutch, Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam (2004); Yinka Shonibare, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2002); Britannia Project, Tate Britain, London (2001); Yinka Shonibare, Camden Arts Centre, London (2000); Affectionate Men, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2000); Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Iniva – Institute of International Visual Arts, London (2000); Dressing Down, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1999); Present Tense: Yinka Shonibare, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1997); Yinka Shonibare, Byam Shaw Gallery, London (1989).


Selected Group Exhibitions:

The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008); Tapping Currents: Contemporary African Art and the Diaspora, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2007); Check-List Luanda Pop, 52nd Venice Biennial (2007); Alien Nation, ICA – Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2006); Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History, MASS MoCA, Williamstown (2006); Take Two. Worlds and Views: Contemporary Art from the Collection, MoMA, New York (2005); Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Johannesburg Art Gallery (2004–2007); Turner Prize 2004, Tate Britain, London (2004); Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, The Museum of African Art, New York (2003–2006); Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, New Museum, New York (2003); Yinka Shonibare, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation, Documenta 11, Kassel (2002); Authentic-Ex-Centric: Conceptualism in Contemporary African Art, 49th Venice Biennial (2001); The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich; Haus der Kulturen der Welt/Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center/MoMA, New York (2001–2002); Partage d'exotismes, 5th Biennale de Lyon (2000); South Meets West, National Museum, Accra; Kunsthalle Bern (2000); Mirror's Edge, Bildmuseet, Umeå; Vancouver Art Gallery; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Tramway, Glasgow; Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (1999–2001); Secret Victorians, Contemporary Artists and a 19th-Century Vision, organized by the Hayward Gallery for Arts Council England (1999); Cinco Continentes y una Ciudad, Museo de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City (1998); Sensation: Young British Art from the Saatchi Collection, Royal Academy of Art, London; Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York (1997); Trade Routes: History and Geography, 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997); Transforming the Crown: African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain, CCCADI – Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (1997); Inclusion/Exclusion: Art in the Age of Postcolonialism and Global Migration, Steirischer Herbst, Graz (1996); The Art of African Textiles: Technology, Tradition and Lurex, Barbican Art Gallery, London (1995); Seen/Unseen, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool (1995); Barclays Young Artists Award, Serpentine Gallery, London (1992); Black Art New Directions, Stoke-on-Trent City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (1989).

Major Public Collections:

The Art Institute of Chicago; Arts Council Collection, London; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; MoMA, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh; Seattle Art Museum; Tate, London; Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis.

Selected Awards:

Honorary Doctorate Degree, Huron University College, London, Ontario (2007); Member of the Order of the British Empire, MBE (2005); Nominee, Turner Prize, London (2004); Fellow of Goldsmiths College, London (2003); Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Visual Artists, London (1998); Art for Architecture Award, RSA – Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, London (1998); Barclays Young Artists Award, Serpentine Gallery, London (1992).

Selected Bibliography:

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Munich 2008; Anthony Downey, "Practice and Theory: Yinka Shonibare", in: Bomb, 93, Fall 2005, pp. 24–31; Lars Bang Larsen, "1000 Words," in: Artforum, 53, January 5, 2005, pp. 172–173; Jaap Guldemond/Gabriele Mackert (eds.), Yinka Shonibare: Double Dutch, Rotterdam 2004; Laurie Ann Farrell, "Re-Dressing Power, the Art of Yinka Shonibare", in: 2wice, 7, 2, 2004, pp. 20–31; Okwui Enwezor, "Tricking the Mind: The Work of Yinka Shonibare", in: Salah Hassan/Olu Oguibe (eds.), Authentic/Ex-Centric: Conceptualism in Contemporary African Art, New York 2001; Olu Oguibe, "Finding a Place: Nigerian Artists in the Contemporary Art World", in: Art Journal, 58, 2, Summer 1999, pp. 31–41; Okwui Enwezor, "The Joke is On You: The Work of Yinka Shonibare", in: Flash Art, 30, 197, November/December 1997, pp. 96–97; Kobena Mercer, "Art That is Ethnic in Inverted Commas: On Yinka Shonibare", in: Frieze, 25, November/December 1995, pp. 38–41; Tania Guha, "Yinka Shonibare: Double Dutch", in: Third Text, 27, Summer 1995, pp. 87–90; Elsbeth Court, "Yinka Shonibare: Finalist, Barclays Young Artist Award", in: African Arts, 26, 1, 1993, pp. 79–81.

© Press information of the organizer

Yinka Shonibare
Friedrichswerdersche Kirche

Werderscher Markt
10117 Berlin

Who Knows Tomorrow
A project by the National Gallery Berlin
4 June - 26 Sept. 2010

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