Crossing Borders / Curriculum Link / VCE Art and Studio Art, International Baccalaureate Art / Yinka Shonibare

VCE Art and Studio Art, International Baccalaureate Art

These questions and activities have been designed to address the Victoria Certificate of Education (VCE) Art and Studio Art Study Designs and relate to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Art curriculum.

They are suggested starting points for teachers and students to explore the work of five contemporary artists: Bani Abidi, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, eX de Medici, Yee I-Lann and Yinka Shonibare.

It is essential to listen to the filmed interviews with the artists, which show examples of their work, before engaging with the material on this page.

List of Artists

Bani Abidi | Lorraine Connelly-Northey | eX de Medici | Yinka Shonibare | Yee I-Lann

Yinka Shonibare

Reverend on Ice, 2005, Yinka Shonibare
Fibreglass, cotton,(Dutch wax), leather , wood and steel
National Gallery of Victoria
Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784,
Sir Henry Raeburn, Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland

Background Information

  • The style of fabric used in this sculpture was originally produced by the Dutch in the late 19th century .Although it utilised traditional Indonesian batik designs it failed to appeal to the Indonesian textile market for whom it was made. The so-called Dutch wax fabric was then exported by both Dutch and English manufacturers to West Africa where it is now an important and distinctive element of this region's culture. The artist purchased the fabric himself in England.
  • This work was inspired by a painting called Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784 by Sir Henry Raeburn.
  • The artist makes reference to a dandy ( an outsider in the 18th century who pretended through imitation to be part of the upper class in society and was happily rewarded with the benefits of that position).


  • Imagine you are describing this image to someone who has never seen it before. Write a brief description of the work which will allow the person to visualise it. Include the following information: The type of artform, materials, art elements, a description of the figure and the activity he is engaged in and the mood and feelings that the work evokes.
  • The artist says that humour is an important element in his work and refers to Reverend on ice as ‘an irreverent reverend.’ What examples of humour can you find in this work?
  • How can you tell the artist enjoys working with textiles and clothes?
  • Commentators writing about Shonibare have suggested that he combines high and low art in his work. What evidence of this idea can you find in this work?
  • Why might it be suggested that this work raises the issue of the class system ?
  • Discuss at least two influences on the artist which are evident in this work eg popular culture, art history.


  • What issues or themes do you believe the artist is exploring? Give reasons based on what you see in this work.
  • How have the artform, use of materials and the formal art elements contributed to communicating the artist's issues or themes?
  • How do these issues or themes reflect contemporary society?


  • Look closely at Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784 by Sir Henry Raeburn. Consider the art form, subject matter, materials, art elements.
  • Compare and contrast this image with Reverend on ice, 2005
  • In what ways are they similar and different? Consider the artform, materials, art elements, principles of design, style and technique.
  • What was the purpose of each work? Consider the audience each was made for.
  • How does each work reflect the time and place in which it was made?
  • Prepare a short talk explaining the relationship between the two works and your preference for one or the other.
  • Shonibare uses an historical event in his video ,Un ballo in maschero (a masked ball), 2004 . Find an example of a work by another artist pre 1970 who has incorporated history into it as a means of expressing an idea eg contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer, Chilean contemporary artist living in Australia Juan Davila and the 18th century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Compare and contrast the works. Consider the use of materials, techniques, art elements, style and themes explored.
  • Shonibare and Lorraine Connelly –Northey (featured on this site) explore the ideas of identity and cultural exchange. Write a short art critic’s review which explains the artists’ different approaches to the same ideas. Include details of the artists’ backgrounds and describe their individual style. Consider their use of materials, techniques and sources of inspiration.


  • Discuss what factors may influence the way different people interpret Reverend on ice, 2005 eg age, cultural background etc.
  • The sculpture reflects ideas associated with Post Modernism. Identity and discuss these ideas with reference to the sculpture.

Interpretive frameworks

  • Analyse and interpret Reverend on ice, 2005 using three different interpretive frameworks. Include a formal interpretation (art elements, principles of design, style and technique) and two other frameworks eg culture, gender, symbolism etc


Meanings and messages

  • Why do you believe the artist has used contemporary African fabric to clothe a clergyman from late 18th century Scotland? Explain what message you believe he is communicating.
  • Suggest why the artist has omitted to give the figure a head?
  • In what ways can this work be seen to undermine racial stereotyping?
  • Why do you believe the artist makes reference to a dandy (see above) in this work?
  • The sculpture of the skater is placed on fake ice. Suggest why the concept of fakeness is important to the meaning of this work?
  • Suggest why the act of skating could have a symbolic meaning.

Art and beauty

Shonibare regards himself as an aesthete. Find out what this term means before considering the following questions:
  • What criteria do you use to decide what is beautiful in art? Locate a work of art that you think is beautiful and explain why?
  • Locate and research a work that interests you by Australian contemporary artist Fiona Hall. Compare and contrast the work with Shonibare's Reverend on ice, 2005. Both artists have stated that they wish to make works of beauty? Describe whether you believe they have achieved this with reference to materials, techniques, art elements and influences.

Commentaries and Opinions

  • Discuss your understanding of the following statements with reference to Reverend on Ice, 2005:
  • "I am interested in the fact that something is seen as authentic, but it isn't," he says. "The stereotype is not what you think it is. There are many layers underneath that you don't know about."
    Skating around identity, Megan Backhouse, The Age, 6 March, 2006
Shonibare considers himself 'truly bi-cultural' and strives to open up debate about the social, cultural and political issues that shape our histories and construct identity. His works challenge assumptions about representation by playfully blurring the boundaries between stereotypically Western ideas about 'high' art and traditional categorisations of 'African art.'
  • How would you define art and what it means to be an artist? Explain why you agree or disagree with Shonibare's comment below with reference to at least two artworks by different artists.
  • 'Art is better than life, you can construct your own history, your own fantasy within a range of artifices. There are no boundaries, it is just like being an alchemist with a power of transformation.'
    Yinka Shonibare


  • Why did the artist appropriate Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784? Which qualities in the work eg the subject, materials, art elements, style and mood do you believe appealed to him and why? Consider the religion and social structure of Scotland in the late 18th century.
  • How has the original painting contributed to the mood, meaning and aesthetic qualities of Reverend on ice, 2005?
  • Does viewing Reverend on ice, 2005 affect the way you view the original painting, Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784? Explain why or why not.
  • Shonibare has previously appropriated works by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth. Research the work of these artists. For an account of why Shonibare appropriated A Rake's Progress, 1735 by William Hogarth refer to the following website:,,1989244,00.html
  • What legal and ethical considerations might Shonibare have taken into account before appropriating these images?

Art Issues

The artist Rodney Pople appropriated Portrait of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, 1784 for his work Self-portrait after Henry Raeburn 2004 (watercolour and tempera on canvas) which was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2004.
  • Explain why this might have caused controversy in the context of this prestigious portraiture prize.