Nigeria | Yinka Shonibare: The Art of Victorian Dress
By Patricia Spears Jones
In this mid-career retrospective, Shonibare, the London-based Nigerian artist, examines Victorian dress forms and culture as a way to explore imperialism, globalization, and African identity. In the magnificent Scramble for Africa (2003), he recreates a meeting at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85: European nationals, clothed in well appointed suits made from colorful Dutch wax fabrics that were originally designed for an African market, decide how to carve up Africa. The portrayal is an ironic commentary on the indifference of these historic figures to the African nations and peoples they were about to alter in terrible ways.
Shonibare’s animated figures bear no identifying racial color and instead are presented in a neutral palette. However, it is their Victorian costumes that denote status, privilege, and discourses on race. In todays label-obsessed, status driven culture, Shonibare reminds us that wealth, class, and power continue to widen the distance between the have’s and have-not’s.
At the Brooklyn Museum of Art . Curated by Rachel Kent, Senior Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney
Patricia Spears Jones is a columnist for Calabar magazine and is the author of two poetry collections, Femme du Monde and The Weather That Kills.