Yinka Shonibare CBE RA: African Spirits of Modernism




Stephen Friedman Gallery presents British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA’s seventh solo exhibition at the gallery, titled ‘African Spirits of Modernism’. Opening on 4 June 2021, the exhibition comprises quilts, sculptures and a series of African masks that engage with the artist’s own identity as a ‘post-colonial hybrid’. The works are accompanied by archival material that captures the burgeoning interest in African art in Paris in the 1920s.

Playfully described by the artist as “Picasso in reverse”, this body of new work explores the relationship between African aesthetics and western modernist expression by juxtaposing icons of classical European antiquity with African artefacts from Picasso’s collection. As Shonibare explains, “Picasso was interested in appropriating from another culture, and I also appropriate from European ethnic art.” Challenging notions of cultural authenticity, Shonibare suggests that another conversation on diaspora within contemporary society can be had.

The vibrantly coloured textile quilts employ embroidery and appliqué techniques and feature Shonibare’s signature batik fabrics that represent flexibility of identity as much as the implications of trade and colonialism. They are combined with a background of diamond-shaped patterns, a nod to the recurring Harlequin motif in Picasso’s work, reflecting both artists’ interest in the acrobatic ‘trickster’. In addition, a new series of masks is directly inspired by Picasso’s eclectic collection of such objects, where Shonibare has recreated ceremonial masks from the Fang, Bamana, Bobo and Nalu peoples. These works comment on Picasso’s apparent love of objects, especially those in which a kind of metamorphosis between human and animal occurred.

In three sculptures of mythological hybrid beings – a centaur, a sphinx and Pan – Shonibare takes what we think of as classical marble sculpture and brings them to life by replacing their heads with replicas of masks in Picasso’s collection, creating another layering of context – a hybrid from Classical Western antiquity with the gaze of an African spirit. A young centaur is paired with a mask from the Baule people, evoking ‘yu’, strong spirit powers with human and animal features. The Sphinx, in turn, wears a Bamana hyena mask, worn by youngsters when initiated into the traditions of their tribe. The okuyi mask from the Punu people, representing idealised female beauty, is worn by Pan, the half-man-half- goat god apparently embracing the feminine. By merging powerful African imagery with Western mythological figures, Shonibare creates a composite ideology, what he calls ‘a third myth’, exploring appropriation, cultural identity and the ability to transform beyond what is expected and therefore compels us to contemplate our world differently.

Duration 04 June 2021 - 31 July 2021
Times see website
Cost Free
Venue Stephen Friedman Gallery
Address 25-28 Old Burlington Street, London, W1S 3AN
Contact / info@stephenfriedman.com / www.stephenfriedman.com/

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