“Playing the Culture Game: Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Critiques of Empire and their Reception in Four Transnational Case Studies.”
Yinka Shonibare MBE = Among the most acclaimed contemporary artists across the globe today.
First three case studies: one exhibition of his work in London, Berlin, and Paris respectively to come to an understanding of how his artistic critiques of Empire have been framed and received in three cities formerly involved in Africa.
What am I doing in Nigeria?
The final case study based in Nigeria, stands out because his work has not been exhibited here. People know about his work through social media and as a result of an artist lecture he gave in 2011 at Terra Kulture.
ð What I didn’t know back then is that I had tapped into an ongoing debate in the field of “contemporary African art”
ð In fact, many of the “contemporary African artists” circulated in the US, Europe and on global biennials today were often not trained in Africa, don’t practice here, and aren’t exhibited on the continent itself.
One person who has been faulted, in part, for this dialectic between continent and diaspora is the Nigerian-born curator and scholar Okwui Enwezor.
When Contemporary African art was validated on a global scale in the course of the 1990s and early 2000s Okwui Enwezor took on a leading role.
=> His curatorial work has not remained unchallenged, one of his most outspoken critics is Sylvester Ogbechie, another Nigerian-born diaspora art historian who is a professor at UC Santa Barbara.
Sylvester Ogbechie’s Critique
The Curator as Culture Broker
1) Criticizes hypervisibility of African diaspora artists at expense of art produced on continent
=> Africa is once again written out of art history as a site of contemporary relevance.
“I propose that the curatorial regime of Enwezor can be faulted for legitimizing a notion of Africa that dispenses with the continent itself as a historical theater of contemporary art and visual culture engagements.”
2) Finds issue with Enwezor’s curatorial discourse of globalization and deterritorialization
- acknowledge and analyze asymmetries of access to the transnational art space.
With green passport this can be a lot more difficult!!
Prince article: No government funding in Nigeria, no galleries that consistently
represent artists => harder to access this “global” art space
represent artists => harder to access this “global” art space
-Rather than talking about some free-floating global art, we should look at the ways in which artists everywhere domesticate global trends in their practice and thereby make it locally relevant (Kunle Filani)
PURPOSE of RESEARCH STAY:
1) To counter the tendencies described by Ogbechie, I wanted to get familiar with contemporary artists based in Lagos so I can include them in my teaching and research.
2) How do the global/local interact in the practice of artists based in Lagos? I have decided to include two artists – Ndidi Dike and Peju Alatise into my dissertation, to put their work in conversation with that of Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare MBE Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle
Trafalgar Square is named in the memory of the Battle of Trafalgar which took place in 1805. In this battle, the British navy defeated Napoleon which gave Britain uncontested command of the seas.
First half of 19th century Trafalgar Square was built to commemorate this event in the cityscape
- Central victory column to Admiral Nelson
- Four plinths/pedestals built in the corners of the square, showcasing various monarchs and imperial generals (George IV, Henry Havelock, Charles Napier…)
Fourth Plinth – ran out of money, sculpture for plinth in NW corner of king William, stood empty for a long time.
1999 the government set up a Fourth Plinth commission and now every two years, a new contemporary art work is featured on the Plinth.
Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle was the first installation that was site-specific and related to the remaining sculptures. Created a 30:1 replica of the HMS Victory but created the ship’s sails with Dutch Wax/Ankara fabrics.
Pro-Empire: plugs into celebratory British national identity perpetuated on the square. Shonibare: “This piece celebrates the legacy of Nelson”
“We are an island race, so everyone in Britain is enmeshed with the sea. Its in our blood.” (Churchill)
In the history of British art, maritime themes showing the ocean and ships abound.
Britain’s national identity largely formed by its self-conception as a naval Empire and defined by its relationship to the sea.
However, with few exceptions, these paintings of the sea were largely white-washed, they omitted the African slaves, African soldiers, and pilots that also populated the these oceans.
CRITIQUE OF EMPIRE
Paul Gilroy: The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness.
He argued that the diverse black cultural traditions cannot be contained by national or ethnic frameworks, instead they can be traced along the interactions and exchanges across the Atlantic, between Africa, the Americas, Europe. He proposed the Black Atlantic as a conceptual unit to produce a counter-narrative to the Eurocentric story of modernity by tracing the transnational paths of those omitted from the nationalist narratives.
• “I have settled on the image of ships in motion across the spaces between Europe, America, Africa and the Caribbean as a central organizing symbol…”
Due to Dutch Wax fabrics that are conflated with Africa the ship can also be read against the grain as finally acknowledging the contributions of those usually left out of British history. Indirectly recalling another type of ship that navigated the Atlantic = slave ships
ð most popular public art piece on Trafalgar, spoke to a broad constituency
ð Marcus Wood, in a book titled Blind Memory, slavery is not commemorated in Britain in monument form, in the course of history Britain has transformed the guilt it has felt for its involvement in the slave trade into a glorious story of its leading role in the abolition of slavery.
Black Atlantic paradigm Critiques
Africa has often been treated as the mythic origin and homeland people want to return to, but not as a place that participates and contributes to the global world. The focus on Black Atlantic frameworks, like the diaspora paradigm have both contributed to writing the continent out of history.
Beyond the black Atlantic: include artistic production on the continent into the discussion, bring artists like Shonibare and Ndidi Dike or Peju Alatise into conversation.
Ndidi Dike, Waka-into-Bondage, 2008, CCA Lagos
Waka-into-Bondage exhibition triggered by two events:
- two visits to Badagry, a coastal town that used to channel slaves for the transatlantic slave trade.
- 2007 big commemoration event in Britain on the occasion of 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, little took place in Nigeria.
Purpose: commemorate those forebears that walked the ¾ miles across the island towards the shore where they were loaded into wooden boats to be paddled to slave ships.
Drop in the Ocean and One Way
Had fishermen create two canoes that were hung from the ceiling, one filled with sugar and bottles of rum, one of the main commodities produced by slaves on the Caribbean islands
Other filled with red liquid reminiscent of blood, calls to mind all those slaves who lost their lives at sea or in the plantations themselves due to over-work and corporeal punishment. -> Violence of the trade.Boats exterior painted and carved by artist herself, uli designs characteristic of her earlier work and her origin at Nsukka School, manillas carved into boats, form of currency paid for slaves.
No Easy Walk to Freedom
Constructed with appropriated harbor palettes, history of materials relate to trans-atlantic trade
Ifa Divination Board – slaves came empty-handed but not empty headed.
Mirrors, Keys, rope, used as forms of monetary exchanges
Flogs – violence against African Americans in a society that remained racist even after abolition of slavery.
Slave ship Brookes – engraving produced in 1791 and widely used by Abolitionist Society to point to inhumane dimensions of the trade.
Ndidi Dike printed it on fabric, looks like an abstract composition at first until the imagery comes into focus.
By incorporating manillas and branding irons she refers to commodity status of these humans, one slave back then could be bought for 8-10 manillas.
Likens it to sweat labor used in production of textiles across the globe today, updating its message to contemporary slavery? How are we still dehumanizing labor today?
Yinka Shonibare, Scramble for Africa (2003) and Colonel Tarleton and Mrs. Oswald Shooting, 2007, installed at Friedrichswerder Kirche, Germany for the exhibition Who Knows Tomorrow (2010)
For the exhibition, 5 artists of African descent were invited to artistically intervene into the exhibition spaces of the Berlin National Gallery to recall Germany’s colonial history in Africa, which has long been ignored as a result of the overbearing presence of Germany’s more recent history.
Shonibare exhibited two of his characteristic installations in the Friedrichswerder Kirche, a former church building that has been converted into an exhibition space associated with the Berlin National Gallery
Scramble for Africa = conference in 1884/5 at which European countries sliced up Africa like a cake
Colonel Tarleton and Mrs. Oswald Shooting = both 18th century British merchants that were involved in the slave trade
Exhibited in the midst of neoclassical sculptures of noteable German thinkers, philosophers and scientists.
Church Building, Last Supper, white dove as symbol of Holy Spirit
è brings together references to the three C’s that were used as motivations for colonialism in Africa: Christianity, Commerce, Civilization.
Peju Alatise, The Rapture of Olorumbi’s Daughter, exhibition: Wrapture
Among other things reflects on the effects of religious fundamentalism in Nigeria in the past and in the presence
Textile use and procedure for Shonibare and Alatise
mostly Ankara, both used and new, assorts them according to colors, symbols and motifs and then reassembles them in a collage to create a new visual language. Cloth is sculpted to maintain the memory of the wearer. Technique called fabric freezing with resins as main ingredient.
TEXTILE: used in a different way here
Clothing as literal and metaphorical representation of humans.
The primary focus of textile/clothing other than cultural and ethnic identity, is the narratives of the individual female user/wearer of the clothing.
The Rapture of Olurombi’s Daugher
no body, just silhouette of her body evoked by cloth
Olurombi is a Yoruba folklore story that is no longer told, has been replaced by stories of Cinderella, Snow-white
-> what stories should the African child should learn? What happens when young African girls read books about the blue-eyed, blond-haired Cinderella, the pale skin and red lips of Cinderella?
è Children need to find themselves reflected in the stories they learn with, provide self-confidence
Christian concept of rapture according to which on the day of reckoning, the good Christians would be taken into God’s kingdom while the bad ones would be left behind
Olurombi’s daughter is evoked only through her dress which has been left behind, reminiscent of her form, after she has been raptured.
Suggests the absence of our own stories that need to be reactivated, retold again.
è communicates 2 things to me: on the one hand, she wants to encourage Nigerians to free themselves from indolence, from the need to be lead/directed by someone which tends to result in an uncritical acceptance of doctrines, dangerous if this results in a binary world of the good and the bad, the saved and the sinner
è recall Yoruba mythology, fantasy worlds as a source of pride and not something that is labeled evil in this fashion, spiritual recovery
Transnational scholars, critics, and curators have neglected African art on the continent. Considerations of the “Black Atlantic” would result in representations of transnational experiences defined by the African emigres relationship to a more powerful “Other.” […] African expatriates such as Shonibare are overburdened by the expectation that they represent Africa, something they decidedly cannot do. (Gitti Salami, A Companion to Modern African Art)