Artistic rebel with a cause

A major retrospective of artist Yinka Shonibare's work, which examines the issues of colonialism, the British Empire and post-colonialism, opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park next week.

A major retrospective of artist Yinka Shonibare's work, which examines the issues of colonialism, the British Empire and post-colonialism, opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park next week.

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Yinka Shonibare is one of Britain’s most significant contemporary artists. Nick Ahad talks to him about his latest exhibition.

Sometimes the New Year’s Honour lists is as interesting for those who refuse an honour as it is for those who are awarded some recognition for their services to the British Empire.

A major retrospective of artist Yinka Shonibare's work, which examines the issues of colonialism, the British Empire and post-colonialism, opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park next week.

A major retrospective of artist Yinka Shonibare's work, which examines the issues of colonialism, the British Empire and post-colonialism, opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park next week.

In 2004 one of the last people you might expect to accept an award was Yinka Shonibare, who in the same year was nominated for the Turner Prize.

One of the major issues the artist’s work addresses is the British empire, colonisalism and post-colonialism.

For the London born, Nigeria-raised artist, who returned to the UK to study art, his connection to colonialism and Britain’s relationship with Africa is a deeply complex and it’s one which he often explores in his work. Which is why the acceptance of an MBE was so incongruous.

However, not only did he accept the honour, he added the title to his professional name.

“I think you can consider me the rebel within,” says Shonibare, MBE.

“I do want to question the establishment, but when you are part of the establishment how do you do that?

“This central notion has always troubled me and appeared in my work.

“I was glad of the acknowledgement but I do not like what the establishment stands for.”

Although the Nigerian British artist has always felt something of an outsider, 
his latest exhibition underlines that he is absolutely a part of the British mainstream art world.

Opening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park next week it is a major retrospective, which looks at the last decade of his career.

“I do feel very honoured, it is a great space and I have been really impressed whenever I have been up there,” says Shonibare.

The exhibition, which will run at the Bretton Hall venue until September, will feature work in the grounds of the park and in the indoor galleries.

Called FABRIC-ATION, 
it features more than 30 vibrant works from the period 2002-2013 including sculpture, film, photography, painting and collage, with many works never before 
seen in the UK.

Although Shonibare considers it an honour, the truth is Yorkshire is lucky to be getting the work of this internationally significant artist, who has shown his work on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth.

Shonibare is not shy about recognising his success, while remaining modest about it.

“When you get a bit of international fame and money or whatever, the question the artist has to ask is why to keep doing this,” he says.

“At the beginning of my career when I was struggling and I didn’t make any money, I used to think that if I ever did get any I would just retire. But you realise when those things come that they are actually irrelevant. What really matters is the art. As an artist you are always in conversation with yourself and the things you want to say, you say in your art.

“I still have plenty to say, so I will keep making work.”
So, how does it feel to be having a first major retrospective, where the work of the last decade is brought together in one space?

“It is always very exposing – it is like looking at a diary of the last ten years and feeling again what I was feeling at the time. It also makes you realise how time flies.”

FABRIC-ATION opens March 2 and will feature work in the indoor and outdoor galleries at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. www.ysp.co.uk

Portrait of the artist

Yinka Shonibare, MBE, was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art, first at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA, graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation. He was commissioned by Okwui Enwezor At Documenta 10 in 2002 to create his most recognised work Gallantry and Criminal Conversation that launched him on an international stage. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial, Brooklyn Museum, New York in June 2009 and in Washington.

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