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Yinka Shonibare’s Message in a Bottle

Yinka Shonibare

British Racism and Colonialism the twin sails of Empire of exploitations. African artist’s “Message in a bottle” unveiled on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art first at Byam Shaw College of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA, graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation. He currently lives and works in the East End of London.

Over the past decade, Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. Shonibare’s work explores these issues, alongside those of race and class, through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance. Using this wide range of media, Shonibare 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.

This latest work examines the historical relationship between Africa and Britain resonating the themes of slavery, colonialism and empire. The juxtaposition of British 18th century naval power encapsulated through a detailed replica of Nelson’s HMS Victory transforming the white sails of the ship by covering them in typical West African prints and designs. The period of slavery and colonialism constituted one of the greatest crimes against humanity in human history.

Placing this work in a giant bottle metaphorically contains the work to a brutal period of history but also adds to the childlike wonderment of the work. Representing as it does an acknowledgment of that history and reflecting the contemporary reality of the African presence in multi cultural London. The work seeks to make a grand statement and pulls it of in a quite remarkable way and is set to become a point and a major tourist attraction.

Turner Prize-winning Shonibare said:

“For me its a celebration of London’s immense ethnic wealth. A ship in a bottle is an object of wonder. How can such towering masts and billowing sails fit inside such a commonplace object?

“With Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle I want to take this childhood sense of wonder and amplify it to match the monumental scale of Trafalgar Square.”

Shonibare was a Turner prize nominee in 2004 and awarded the decoration of Member of the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. He has added this title to his professional name. He was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor At Documenta 10 in 2002 to create his most recognised work ‘Gallantry and Criminal Conversation’ that launched him on an international stage.

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 Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC in October 2009.

A great work of art that cleverly unifies and reflects the history of the racism, slavery, colonialism and migration.

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