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Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship’ stuns the world at Trafalgar Square

By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU, with Agency report

Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare MBE, last week became the first African artist to display artwork in any public space in Great Britain, when he  unveiled his work “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” in London’s popular Trafalgar Square. The artwork is sponsored by Guaranty Trust Bank of Nigeria which earlier in 2010 registered another first when it sponsored Chris Ofili’s collection at Tate Britain, making it the first African corporation to sponsor a major artwork in Great Britain.

Yinka’s piece, sitting on top of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, consists of a scale model of Nelson’s HMS Victory set in a glass bottle, and is the largest recorded ship in a bottle in the world, measuring 2.8M by 4.7M. The ship’s 37 large sails are made of exuberant and richly patterned African cloth, and symbolise African identity and independence. Tying together historical and global threads, the work considers the legacy of Britain’s expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson’s Victory provided.

Nelson's ship in a bottle by Yinka Shonibare

Unveiled in the presence of Guaranty Trust Bank Managing Director/CEO Tayo Aderinokun and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, Yinka said the work is a celebration of multiculturalism in London, and in-part, reflects his own African roots: “I am extremely proud to unveil this piece of work today, and see it as a crystallisation of my thoughts around the issues of identity and culture in contemporary society.

Continuing he added that “London is such a diverse community and art is a fantastic way to engage everyone regardless of race, class or gender. This piece marries a chain of historical and global events which began way back at the time of Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar, culminating in the diverse and multicultural makeup that we see in Britain today.”

Tayo Aderinokun, Guaranty Trust Bank Managing Director/CEO, Nigeria’s foremost bank and the first African bank to list in the London Stock Exchange said: “We are extremely proud to be here today as the sponsor of such a unique piece of art, and the first African corporation to sponsor any such major art in the United Kingdom.

Yinka Shonibare MBE

“This artwork will – for the first time – give many people a new perspective on Africa. Yinka has created something that will play an important role in re-balancing Western views of Africa, helping shift perceptions away from things like droughts onto the fascinating breadth and depth of our unique African heritage.”

Mayor of London Boris Johnson in his own remark added that: “Yinka’s piece is truly a stunning work of art that London is fortunate to host. This piece is particularly timely given that 2010 marks Nigeria’s 50th year of independence.”


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