The Arts

May 1, 2011

Art-iculating Yinka Shonibare’s hope in hopelessness

Yinka and How to Blow up Two Heads, one of the works by Yinka Shonibare


The popular saying that, where ever art goes people go was brought to the fore last week when the Lagos art community converged at the Lagos culture house TerraKulture, Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island for the Art-iculate Lectures Series, Spring 2011 organised by Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos.

The lecture series which started in 2008 as a platform to increasing dialogue, encourage debate and stimulate exchange in the visual art and culture in Nigeria featured the internationally acclaimed Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare.

As usual, the event which kicked off few hours behind schedule attracted the presence of many artists, art patrons, collectors, art lovers, students and critics including; Prof. Yusuf Grillo, Engineer Yemisi Syllon, Dr Peju Layiwola, Ademola Azeez, Chief Frank Okonta, Ndidi Dike and many others who came to have a glimpse of the man they have heard so much about his exploits.

The occasion which could be described as a pleasant home coming for Yinka Shonibare who has not been to Nigeria for over thirty years , afforded the artist, an opportunity to discuss his artistic trajectory over the past two decades by presenting key themes from his vast and diverse artistic productions to the audience.

For the two hours that the lecture lasted, guests listened to this August lecturer as his presentation further established him as an authority in culture, history and other academic fields through intelligent elucidation of facts about his life , his art and how the oppressive nature of the Europeans that disrupt the culture and government of African countries influenced his style of imaginative composition and forced him to carry out what he termed, his own “revolution in the studio”.

A view of most of his works on the screen displays how Shonibare plays with the ambiguities and contradictions of the post colonial establishment as well as that of the legacies of colonialism and class formations. In multimedia projects that reveal his passion for art history, literature, and philosophy, Shonibare provides a critical tour of Western civilization and its achievements and failures and why he has become well known for his exploration of colonial and post-colonial themes as his work explores these issues through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance.

With this wide range of media, Shonibare explains to the audience the meaning of identity construction and the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Describing himself as a ‘post-colonial hybrid, the artist, Shonibare in the works questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. Works like: Space Walk, Diary of Victoria Dandy, Scramble for Africa, How to Blow up Two Heads, The Confession, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, Black Gold point to the way he has used his own studio to make statements. “ I try to take things known by everybody and make a popular statement about them.”He said.

But of all that transpired during the discussion, one thing that was uppermost in the mind of most of people; and especially those who have not seen him before and never knew that he is physically challenged was how he has been able to produce those monumental works despite his disability.

This question was even put to him during the question and answer session. Though he was not born like that but developed that when he was diagnosed of transverse myelitis, an inflammation across the spinal cord, that paralysed him while in school. Shonibare who can be described as a conceptual artist disclosed that he delegates much of the production of his labor-intensive projects to a network of other artists.

Ordinarily, a disabled person in his class in Nigeria will either be busy begging on the streets or become a liability to his family, but for him it is not so . After he was rehabilitated, he returned back to Byam Shaw School of Art in London, which offered some assistance and since his graduation he has continuously challenged his assumptions and stereotypes by proving that there is hope in disability.

This, he has been able to actualize because of the environment in which he found himself. He lives and works in London, where the government makes provision for all.Shonebare’ss case is similar to that of African acclaimed writer ,Prof. Chinua Achebe, who also lives and works in the United States of America, where relocated following a distablising motor accident that reduced him to a wheel chair.

Though physically challenged, both men have been going about their work with ease as if all is well. And the credit goes to the government of the respective countries, where they live that make it possible by providing conducive environments for them to live and work..

Yinka is today one of the best sought after artist all over the world, his works are virtually in all major galleries and museums in Europe. This is a very big challenge to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, even as he enters for another four year term. He is now more than ever challenged to ensure the provision of such an enabling environment that will accommodate all and sundry to live and work and fully develop their God given potentials.

Speaking at the event, the director of CCA,Bisi, Silva, stated that Shonibare’s visit was supported by The Menil Collection, Houston and, is part of a preliminary research for works to be presented in the forthcoming exhibition, Love and Africa (2012–13), which will take place in Houston and Lagos in collaboration with CCA, Lagos.