Black History Month in Art: Yinka Shonibare


In honor of Black History Month, we want to highlight some of the greatest black artists in the world who have created essential works that reflect the black experience and tackle issues of identity, social and political concerns, and more.

British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare explores “colonialism and postcolonialism within the contemporary context of globalization.” From the artist’s website:

Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and film. Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured ‘African’ batik fabric he buys in London. This type of fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. In the 1960s the material became a new sign of African identity and independence.

Watch an interview with Shonibare, and learn more about the artist through his own words, below.

“People do talk about my disability, the way that I work is in fact not very different from how most artists work now, like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. If you do 10 exhibitions a year, you can’t possibly be making everything yourself, able-bodied or not. So I don’t actually feel that I’m very unusual at all—I probably would have ended up working this way even if I was able-bodied since I get so many projects. I have a studio with a production manager and then I work with a lot of different costumers, sculptors, filmmakers, and so on. The way I work is like the way most busy international contemporary artists work now, actually.”

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“A lot of people come from elsewhere, the idea of an authentic singular culture is a modern myth.”

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“Some people see my work as a celebration of the British colonial rule and some people see my work as a critique of it, and it’s not either. A lot of people saw Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle [the 1:30 scale model of Nelson’s HMS Victory, that sat on the Fourth Plinth from May 2010 to January 2012] as a celebration of Nelson’s campaign of colonization, but again, I was not necessarily making a definite statement either way. It’s about raising questions rather than answering them. I’m not a member of any political party; I maintain agency. There’s a freedom that comes with that, so I can use these aesthetics without having to define my opinion on them. With my name as well – having this MBE – a lot of people wonder if this is an acceptance of it, or an ironic gesture; when I think it can be both, actually. In a lot of my work it’s important that there is this ambiguity, that it doesn’t answer these questions and that there is no definite statements being made. So it’s more a type of poetry; it’s a poetic statement.”

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“My work comments on power, or the deconstruction of power, and I tend to use notions of excess as a way to represent that power—deconstructing things within that.”

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“Metaphorically speaking, I don’t believe in putting up borders.”