British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare highlights issues of power and prejudice through the lens of history.
In these three major installations, Yinka Shonibare exposes the roots of power and the constructs of social hierarchy. Art Radar has a look at the exhibition before it closes on 18 March 2017.
At James Cohan gallery in New York from 17 February to 18 March 2017 British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1962) holds his solo exhibition “Prejudice at Home: A Parlour, a Library, and a Room”. The exhibition features three major installations considering the theme of otherness. The works include the freestanding installation The Victorian Philanthropist’s Parlour (1996-97), the photo suite Dorian Gray (2001) and the large-scale work The British Library, which was opened to critical acclaim at the Brighton Festival in 2014.
Yinka Shonibare came to prominence in the late 1990s and was part of the Young British Artists generation. He has been exhibited in Documenta10 (2002) and the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) and a survey of his work was developed in a major exhibition that toured from the MCA, Australia to the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.
The works in “Prejudice at Home: A Parlour, a Library, and a Room” explore individual and collective identity viewed through the lens of history, challenging the prejudices of society. The British Library consists of 6,000 books on shelves, bound in brightly coloured Dutch wax cloth, a colourful style that Shonibare is well known for. Visitors can explore the whole list of names and additional video documentation online, as well as record their own stories on iPads within the installation.
The spines of the books list both well known and unfamiliar names, such as T. S. Eliot, Henry James, Hans Holbein, Kazuo Ishiguro, Zaha Hadid, Mick Jagger, George Frideric Handel and Anish Kapoor. The individuals have all made a contribution to British culture although some have been opposed to a diverse makeup of Britain, like Nigel Farage, Joan Collins and Jonathan Arnott. The work challenges perceptions of global migration and refugees at a time when immigrants are being vilified in public discourses. Shonibare highlights the contributions of migrants and asks what Britain would look like without their inputs.
The stand-alone installation The Victorian Philanthropist’s Parlour is a replica of a typical Victorian philanthropist’s living room, a figure whose money was made at the expense of others. The installation is treated like a specimen, or a museum exhibit cordoned off with a velvet rope, which talks back to the 19th century ethnographic displays at the world fairs that displayed people from “exotic” lands in recreated habitats.
By turning the stereotypes around, Shonibare searches for the origins of current day prejudice. He explains that his art is like a Trojan Horse, questioning representations of power:
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.
The series of 12 photographs, Dorian Gray (2001), is a metaphor that explores roots of power and the constructs of social hierarchy. The filmic photos display Shonibare as a disabled black man of African origin and tell the story of how narcissism and a sense of power led to the belief that the character is the master of the universe who is able to define nature.
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