see.culture.made.radical: the visual history makers – yinka shonibare

February 12, 2014

It’s become increasingly apparent that maintaining a single outlet for expressing one’s self has become quite outmoded. It is also evident, that the Men and Women of the art world have, and will continue to embrace contemporary theories of multicultural influence, and multi-dimensional forms of creation. Artists like Yinka Shonibare (born 1962), have gone further than simplistic exhibitions composed of a canvas and paint, toward globally motivated pieces shrouded in vibrancy and variation. These diverse methods of displaying art, consisting of; photography, installations, sculptures and performances, motivate onlookers to further explore cultural identity and redefine their views on the importance of culture in society.

By Jarrett Johnson, AFROPUNK Contributor *
All artwork © Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare was born in London, but later moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of 3. The transition from Europe to Africa must have played a major role in Shonibare’s artistic development, in regards to his views toward culture and race. London in the 1960’s was a cultural and artistic melting pot, and Nigeria—only gaining their independence from Britain in 1960 (two years prior to Shonibare’s birth), was smoldering in its own right, but with civil unrest. Growing up in a country newly freed from a colonialism, is more than likely where Shonibare began to consider his works a visual representation of the post-colonial culture. Shonibare returned to London on a quest to fine tune his art capabilities on a collegiate level, first attending Byam Shaw School of Art and then at Goldsmiths, University of London, earning his MFA.

Shonibare’s attention to race, culture, history and his general artistic fervor, are not to be denied, and neither is his perseverance. At the age of 18, Shonibare contracted transverse myelitis (an inflammation throughout the spinal cord) causing him to be paralyzed on one side of his body, which over the years hindered his physical abilities. Rather than be overpowered by this disability, he implemented it within his works. Shonibare is known for creating portioned bursts of vivid colors, sometimes even using headless mannequins decorated in historical garb. In regards to his artwork he has said; “Historically the people who made huge, unbroken modernist paintings were middle-class white American men. I don’t have that physique; I can’t make that work. So I fragmented it, in a way which made it both physically manageable and emphasizes the political critique”.

Due to his disability he is unable to create on his own. Through a culmination of assistants, he is able to connect small pieces of art that come together to form something immense. Even the African fabrics he uses in most of his works are not actually manufactured in Africa, which is an example of how many small facets from around the globe can come together to form a masterpiece. For his artistic efforts, Shonibare has received quite a few accolades. In 2003, Shonibare became an Honorary Fellow of Goldsmiths’ College in 2003, and was awarded the title of MBE (Member in The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2004. Being an Artist for a living is an arduous task due to its abstract nature, try being a black artist with a disability. Like many artists of his time, Shonibare has offered a radical approach to one of the most ancient forms of expression, thus forging his way into visual history.

* Jarrett Johnson’s website: