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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Fabric-ation, Yinka Shonibare's Solo at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Image Courtesy of YSP, Courtesy of the artist, Yinka Shonibre MBE, Cannonball heaven (2011) and Stephen-Friedman Gallery London

Fabric-ation is Yinka Shonibare’s; solo exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park; what a treat it truly is! The display covers a full range of his work including over 30 vibrant works from the period 2002 – 2013 including sculpture, film, photography, painting and collage, with many works never before seen in the UK.  These include two major commissions, Wind Sculptures (2013) Standing over six metres tall, with Shonibare’s signature patterning.  If you’re not familiar with Shonibare’s work, I recommend you visit this article. I won’t describe all the pieces within the show because it’s better to explore them individually and discover the work in person.

Instead, I want to focus on my favourite piece within the exhibition: Cannonball Heaven (2011). An enormous black cannon ready to be set alight by two vibrantly clothed figures poised at the base. The appear ready to aid the release of Shonibare’s colourful cannonball creation; with an almighty and forceful sound. The other figure’s hands protecting a headless selfin anticipation of the blast. 

The figures clothing style is a nod to the historic naval officers uniforms from the late 18th Century, whilst the colouring of the cloth reflects Shonibare’s personal ornate design taste.  The work nudges the viewer into considering the design aspects of a powerful machine of death and the hierarchy denoted by uniform with a nod to fashion and design being over shadowed by what the canon represents. Also one cannot ignore how historical events that happened during the 18th century have shaped our society. 

 A very grown up view of the work; at the same time my immaturity tells me I’ve been slapped in the face by the shear girth of Shonibare’s long black cannon.  It frankly demands attention; it dominates the shared space it’s been squeezed into.

An impressive alternative to the Western Cannon the work over shadows and consumes, making competitors shrivel up limp. The narrative on walls supporting the work gave a very neutral, child friendly approach to describing the work. I was told by the curator that all descriptions were written in collaboration with the final sign off by Shonibare. 

I considered the descriptive narrative’s approach safe. The words allow the viewer to read whatever they want within the work.  My mind could just be in the gutter, there was a lack of reference to sexuality in the narrative.  It felt to me, white-washed, choosing to selectively focus on reflecting the work’s historical context and play with identity ignoring the obvious sexual connotations of the war machine.  Or, was this what Shonibare intended? There is a lot written about these themes within the Creative Case especially by Third text and this exhibition is an example of tensions within representation. This made me think about the voice of the artist, curator and I was this work being censored? Or is it unnecessary and crass to simply say the work looks like a giant phallus about to explode some funky coloured jizz? Oh wait check out the other corner of the room…

Shonibare says his work explores ideas of ownership, representation and identity. Shonibare stated ‘If I wanted to be political I would have become a politician,’ he points out. ‘My role is to document, not pass judgement.’  His presentation of what he documents is of course still very leading to his own agenda. Shonibare claims his own sense of self out right, displaying his own ideas in a way which is not prescribed or defined by stereotypical ideals. 

I believe the work is louder than the words on the wall but it does direct the viewer’s attention, in the same way my own words are directing the reader. Shonibare’s work forces the viewer to question our surroundings and challenge us to look at ourselves and reconsider what we regard as normal, valuable and question what we hold as truth.

These ideas play a part in all of the works within the exhibition, he is an enlightening voyeur, and his craft is refined and skilfully executed, with a passion for life and great humour. This exhibition was worth the train journey over; it is an absolute must see.

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