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Yinka Shonibare and the African influence on Modern Culture by Kome Eleyae


media, Shonibare examines in particular the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Mixing Western art history and literature, he asks what constitutes our collective contemporary identity today.’

Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial’ hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. Yinka moved to Lagos, Nigeria when he was 3 years old and returned to London to study Fine Art first at Byam Shaw College of Art and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA, graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation. He currently lives and works in the highly multicultural East End of London.

I especially admire his confronting the identity crisis experienced by people from one culture who are brought up in another as I can personally relate to how that liminal space or perhaps overlap between a Nigerian and British heritage feels like. My mother was brought up by a white family then moved to Nigeria at a relatively young age before returning to become a professional in the UK.  By being so close to a figure who experienced the same things that perhaps Shonibare would have, I can empathize and agree with his world view having seen how an exposure to specifically those two highly different cultures, people or even worlds can affect and inform an individual.


A piece which is a clear result of Shonibare’s exploration of ‘cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation’ is his sculpture above, ‘Scramble for Africa.’ This piece is a re-enactment of a meeting of European leaders after World War 2, sharing African colonies as the spoils of war. As with the majority of his work, ‘Scramble for Africa’ is characterized by the dressing of the figures in Dutch wax printed cotton, which is traditionally the vivid and bold material that is worn in Western Africa and  is probably most  commonly associated with African clothing and traditional attire. It is ironic, then, that it is used in the description of middle class white European males. Another comic twist is the fact that these figures are also headless. This division of Africa between European superpowers can be seen as an event that was the source of many modern problems, due to its lack of regard for the separation of united peoples or the amalgamation of traditional enemies.

I think that what Yinka is trying to say is that this ‘ignorant division’ that can be seen to have manifested itself in many 20th century conflicts, is the work of people that could only be headless with no sense of respect and sensibility, but all consumed by greed, power and national self interest. Two other important ideas which are present in this, as well as a lot of his other work are his accuracy and scale. This piece is 132 X 488 X 280 cm and therefore extremely lifelike. When in the presence of something that is in the exact same scale as the subject observing it, a definite vividness is achieved. The piece is extremely accurate. The map inscribed on the conference table is historically correct and beautifully inscribed. The materials worn by the people in the piece are hand made, as are the seat covers that they are sitting on. As the materials have been specifically chosen for each figure, so have their poses and positions, making the overall composition seem as much like a snapshot of real history as possible. This piece is one of my favourites of his, not only due to its historical significance and message, but also its artistic qualities and craftsmanship that make for such an engaging viewing experience.

Another piece that has a personal view on politics is his 330