Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare's 'Suspended States' at Serpentine Gallery

Yinka Shonibare | Suspended States at Serpentine Gallery | Lougher Contemporary

'Suspended States', Yinka Shonibare’s eagerly awaited solo exhibition, marks his first major showcase in London in over two decades. It is being hosted at the Serpentine South Gallery from June 10, 2024, to September 15, 2024. This exhibition features an array of new works that reflect Shonibare’s ongoing examination of the impacts of colonialism on present-day culture, conflicts, and ecological issues.

“My work has always been about the crossing of boundaries; geographically, visually, historically, and conceptually. Suspended States addresses the suspension of boundaries, whether psychological, physical, or geographical — all boundaries of nationhood are in a state of suspense. This is an exhibition in which Western iconography is reimagined and interrogated, at a moment in history when Nationalism, protectionism and hostility towards foreigners is on the rise.” – Yinka Shonibare CBE


Yinka Shonibare | Suspended States at Serpentine Gallery | Lougher Contemporary

Yinka Shonibare's Artistic Style

Yinka Shonibare CBE is acclaimed for his vibrant use of Dutch wax print fabric, a material that eloquently symbolises the complex and intertwined histories of Africa and Europe. This fabric, originally inspired by Indonesian batik designs, was mass-produced by the Dutch and became a hallmark of African identity after being introduced to British colonies in West Africa. Shonibare's multidisciplinary approach spans sculpture, installation, painting, and mixed media, and is characterised by its rich visual language and potent thematic explorations of identity, power, and post-colonialism.


Themes of the 'Suspended States' Exhibition

'Suspended States' delves into how colonial histories continue to shape modern conflicts, the quest for peace, and the ecological repercussions of imperialism. Shonibare’s works critically engage with these themes, using his signature aesthetic to provoke thought and dialogue.

Systems of Power and Refuge: The exhibition interrogates how historical and contemporary systems of power affect sites of refuge. This theme is poignantly captured in works like Sanctuary City (2024), which consists of miniature buildings representing places of refuge for persecuted and vulnerable groups. The interiors of these structures are adorned with Dutch wax print fabric, symbolising the vital need for sanctuary amidst global crises.

Public Monuments and Colonial Legacy: Shonibare explores the contentious debate over public statues and their significance. Decolonised Structures (2022-2023) features smaller-scale replicas of prominent London public sculptures, including figures such as Queen Victoria and Herbert Kitchener. These replicas are painted with Dutch wax print patterns, questioning the authority and relevance of these monuments in contemporary society and highlighting their colonial roots.

Ecological Impact of Colonialism: The exhibition also addresses the environmental degradation caused by colonial exploitation. Works like African Bird Magic (2024) juxtapose images of endangered African birds with symbols of industrialisation, underscoring the ecological impacts of centuries of exploitation and the urgent need for sustainability.

Conflict and Peace: Central to the exhibition are two major installations that reflect on the themes of conflict and peace. The War Library (2024) is a vast, immersive installation comprising 5,000 books bound in Dutch wax print fabric. The titles of these books, embossed in gold, represent various conflicts and peace treaties, raising profound questions about collective memory and historical amnesia.


Yinka Shonibare | Suspended States at Serpentine Gallery | Lougher Contemporary


    Featured Artworks

    Wind Sculpture: The exhibition opens with a striking wind sculpture, a continuation of Shonibare’s exploration of wind as a metaphor for the forces that have propelled both slavery and migration. This bronze sculpture captures the essence of Dutch wax print fabric as if caught in motion, set beneath the gallery’s circular lightwell, creating a dynamic and evocative visual experience.

    Creatures of Mappa Mundi: This piece draws from the medieval map imagery of Hereford Cathedral, reflecting contemporary fears and xenophobia. It explores how historical narratives shape modern attitudes toward migration and refuge, resonating with the exhibition’s broader themes of displacement and sanctuary.

    Unstructured Icons and Cowboy Angels: These works highlight the luxurious lifestyles supported by colonisation and the significant influence of African art on global culture. Through these pieces, Shonibare critiques the exploitation inherent in colonial histories and celebrates the resilience and creativity of African cultures.

    Sanctuary City: This installation features miniature versions of buildings that have historically been places of refuge, from a Chinese Methodist Church in Hong Kong to ancient sites like the Temple of Theseus in Greece. The glowing interiors of these structures, painted with Dutch wax print, emphasise the humanitarian need for shelter and the enduring quest for safe havens.


    Yinka Shonibare | Suspended States at Serpentine Gallery | Lougher Contemporary


    Significance and Legacy of Yinka Shonibare

    'Suspended States' not only critiques past injustices but also illuminates the continuing impact of colonial legacies on contemporary global issues. Shonibare’s work is a testament to the power of art to provoke thought, challenge perceptions, and inspire change. His installations, sculptures, quilts, and prints weave a narrative that is both visually stunning and intellectually compelling, urging viewers to reflect on the intertwined histories and shared futures of diverse cultures.

    The exhibition also underscores Shonibare’s commitment to social change and community engagement. His establishment of residency spaces in Lagos and Ijebu, Nigeria, focusing on trans-disciplinary craft, design, and environmental sustainability, reflects his dedication to fostering creativity and addressing contemporary social and ecological challenges.

    In 'Suspended States', Yinka Shonibare CBE offers a profound exploration of colonial legacies and their impact on modern conflicts, migration, and ecological sustainability. The exhibition serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring relevance of historical narratives and the vital need for reflection, dialogue, and action in addressing the complexities of our shared world.

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