via NYTimes, Art Review:
'Yinka Shonibare Selects'
A Sculptor from 2 Cultures Takes a Tour of Colonialism
Ken Johnson, Oct 14, 2005
[...] Born in London in 1962 to Nigerian parents, Mr. Shonibare grew up in Nigeria and at 17 returned to England to study art. In the 1990's he became known for wry postcolonialist commentary in the form of sculptural tableaus featuring headless mannequins in 19th-century-style English clothes made of brightly colored and boldly patterned African fabrics. These earned him inclusion in big shows like the Venice Biennale and the controversial "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum.
On view at the is Mr. Shonibare's response to an invitation to do something with the museum's permanent collections. He has created a display of artifacts, mostly in glass-topped cases, associated with travel, and added two of his own sculptures. At the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is Mr. Shonibare's response to an invitation to do something with the museum's permanent collections. He has created a display of artifacts, mostly in glass-topped cases, associated with travel, and added two of his own sculptures. At the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea he has produced two sculptural tableaus, also about travel.
Mr. Shonibare's own sculptures cast the whole in a unifying light. Two headless female mannequins in Victorian dresses made of African fabrics rise above the display on six-foot walking stilts attached to their feet. These figures are meant to represent Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, who, along with a third sister, Amelia, founded the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. Daughters of a wealthy industrialist, Sarah and Eleanor were avid travelers, and the things they gathered on their travels became the basis of the museum's permanent collection.
Elevated as they are and metaphorically equipped to traverse great distances, the figures of Miss Sally and Miss Nelly, as the sisters were known, become personifications of a seemingly benign cultural imperialism. And it is a measure of Mr. Shonibare's lightness of touch that he leaves the darker shadows of colonialism and its legacy - to which the Hewitt sisters were presumably oblivious - to the intelligent viewer's imagination.
The fabric patterns, by the way, have a complicated history of their own. They were initially produced by English manufacturers in the late 19th century for Indonesian markets, where they failed. In Africa, however, they became so popular that today we can easily take them for products of indigenous design. [read on...]
"Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works From the Permanent Collection" is at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street, Manhattan, (212) 849-8300, through May 6. Mr. Shonibare's exhibition "Mobility" is at the James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th Street, Chelsea, (212) 714-9500, through Oct. 29.