Thursday, March 18, 2010

Contemporary Nigerian Artist Yinka Shonibare's Show is Successful, but Finished

Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE’s exhibition closed Sunday, March 7th completing his four-month run at the National Museum of African Art.

Since November, visitors have trekked across the Smithsonian to view 14 years worth of the British-born artist’s most celebrated works. These pieces include a colorful mixture of photography, film, sculpture, paintings and large-scale mixed media.

Shonibare’s artworks explore the themes of retaining African identity in light of British colonialism and the Enlightenment era’s debate over rationality versus irrationality. They also reflect his ancestry, which includes Nigerian and British roots. The MBE in his name stands for Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Viewers of Shonibare’s exhibit have spanned the globe, attracting visitors as far away as Europe.
“I enjoy the way he conceptualizes his art,” said Suzanne from Germany. “It’s both beautiful and political.”

District resident Muhammad Salaam agreed.

“He’s depicting what’s actually happening in the world,” said Salaam. “That includes colonialism and of course, the rape and murder of a whole nation of people.”

The 48-year-old artist’s paintings include Dutch wax print fabric. Since the mid-1990s, Shonibare has blended politics and aestheticism with his use of this material. Manufactured in Europe for the West African market between the early 19th and 20th centuries, the wax fabric represents both mercenary and racial relationships between Europe, Asia and Africa.

As far as sculpture, Shonibare usually creates headless figures and drapes them in ornately designed clothing reminiscent of the period preceding the French Revolution. He references art history for his sculptures, drawing inspiration from the works of French painter Jean-Honore Fragonard.

While Shonibare’s sculptures borrow from art history, his photography draws from past literature.

Of Shonibare’s two major suites of photographs featured at the African Art museum, his depiction of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray drew the most attention. Gray centers on a man who forfeits his soul to prevent aging; he succumbs to moral decay as a result. Shonibare captures Gray’s dilemma in a series of black and white photographs presented in a linear sequence.
Visitors crowded around the piece and shared their thoughts.

“I’m a huge fan of Oscar Wilde and of his novel, ‘Dorian Gray,’” said Amy from Ohio. “This is unlike anything I’ve seen, though. I think it’s more emotionally intensive seeing this in still photograph form as opposed to reading it or even watching the film. You’re forced to ponder it. There’s no background noise.”

With reactions like these, it comes as little to no surprise that Shonibare’s exhibition has run so long.

Source: The Hilltop Online, Howard University
By: Jessica Harper

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