Installation view of Yinka Shonibare’s <em>Hybrid Sculpture</em> on display in NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 to 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Sean Fennessy

Yinka Shonibare

Photo: James Mollison

Yinka Shonibare
England born 1962

Level 2
NGV International
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Playfully describing this body of work as ‘Picasso in reverse’, Shonibare explores the complex relationship between African aesthetics and Western modernist expression, juxtaposing classical sculpture from European antiquity with African artefacts from Pablo Picasso’s collection. The resulting polymorph, which combines the British Museum’s Roman Sphinx with a Bamana people’s hyena mask, reflects on the constructed nature of identity while pointing to the objectification of African culture in Western societies. By covering the sphinx batik designs, often mistaken as being ‘traditionally African’, Shonibare alludes to the decoration of Greek sculptures as a metaphor for historical whitewashing. Indonesian batik patterns and techniques were likely introduced to West Africa under Dutch colonial influence.

The bold and vibrantly coloured textile quilts of Modern magic employ embroidery and appliqué techniques of harlequin diamonds – a nod to their recurrence in Pablo Picasso’s work and to Yinka Shonibare’s own identification as an art world ‘trickster’ – with mask designs taken directly from Picasso’s eclectic collection of African cultural objects. Within the patchwork, Shonibare challenges notions of cultural authenticity, engaging with the artist’s own identity as a ‘post-colonial hybrid’. As Shonibare explains, ‘Picasso was interested in appropriating from another culture, and I also appropriate from European ethnic art’.

Yinka Shonibare lives and works in London. He is best known for his tableaux of characters dressed in period costumes made from batik, an Indonesian-designed fabric popularly assimilated in West Africa, which became a signifier of African identity and independence in the 1960s. Shonibare was a 2004 Turner Prize nominee and elected as a Royal Academician by the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. He was awarded the MBE in 2004 and the CBE in 2019. Shonibare received the prestigious Art Icon Award from Whitechapel Gallery, London, and an honorary degree from The Courtauld Institute, London, in 2021.

Purchased with funds donated by Helen and Michael Gannon, Sophie Gannon and Frazer East, and NGV Foundation, 2021
Professor AGL Shaw AO Bequest, 2022