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


.2 x 673.1 cm painting ‘Black Gold II.’

Nigeria is a very rich country in terms of raw materials and mineral wealth. Namely, crude oil. There is an abundance of oil in the south and south eastern parts of the country. However due to corrupt politicians and their collusion with major multinational oil corporations, the people who live in those places are severely mistreated and have not benefitted from the resources that belongs to them, but instead have suffered. On my father’s side I am from a town called Uzere, in Delta State on the Niger Delta - the very heart of the oil producing areas. It is and has been one of the largest petroleum oil producing communities in Nigeria since 1957. This is a place where the black crude oil is flooded into the banks of the delta mixing with the water to make a black tarry gunk and destroying the vibrant forms of life in the delta. Yet this is also a place where there is ambiguity and uncertainty regarding the management of the millions of dollars that are involved in the running of this industry.

In the context of a nation with such mineral wealth, crude oil is really ‘Black Gold.’ Shonibare captures the essence of the oil in a big splash pattern of black acrylic on the wall, and the circular canvases with vibrant golden designs not only look at the ‘Gold’ aspect of his title playing on its titular significance, but also could be a suggestion of the iridescent and shimmering flecks when looking at oil. This piece is very thought provoking, and I think that its showing to a western audience is good as it educates people to unheard of, but massive problems caused partially by western and African leaders, that have serious and very unfortunate consequences for the people who live there. 
Shonibare’s political views and ideas, and the mixing of history and consequence in an array of striking West African colour are something that appeals to me greatly, but I am also fascinated by his interpretations of not just historical events but historical art, movements and other objects of culture.


This piece for instance, acts as a perfect example of his contemporary interpretation of a classic piece of British art. Above, on the left is Sir Henry Raeburn’s famous portrait ‘Minister Skating.’ It is an icon of Scottish culture, painted in the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ and can be found in The National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. To the right is a sculpture by Yinka Shonibare entitled, ‘Reverend on Ice,’ which acts as a modern parody to Raeburn’s piece. This is one of my favourite pieces of Yinka’s as it immediately brings to life a world that people could only imagine before. The accuracy of the sculpture is incredible and mimics the pose of Raeburn’s minister almost perfectly .The ice on the floor is so realistic that you are almost taken to the Scottish Highlands, but weirdly also to the markets of Lagos at the same time. The culture clash is particularly stark here, as the clothes of the Reverend on ice are easily identifiable as from another era, (which is not the case in pieces such as scramble for Africa) and the Reverend is wearing these African garments on ice, which rarely occurs in Africa. Therefore, there is almost double the contrast; the contrast