• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Suspended States: Yinka Shonibare’s homecoming to Serpentine South Gallery after 32 years

Suspended States: Yinka Shonibare’s homecoming to Serpentine South Gallery after 32 years

Since April, 2024, Suspended States has been on stage at Serpentine South Gallery in Kensington Gardens London.

The exhibition, which runs until September 1, 2024, is a solo show of new and recent works by Yinka Shonibare (b. 1962), a British- Nigerian artist.

Moreover, Suspended States coincided with Shonibare’s presentation at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia, which commenced in April 2024.

Suspended States is also Shonibare’s first solo exhibition of works of over 20 years in a London public institution, as well as marked a return for the artist who first exhibited at Serpentine South Gallery in 1992 as a finalist in the Barclays Young Artist Award, and as a participant in Serpentine’s 2006 Interview Marathon.

Suspended States will include new and recent installations, sculptures, pictorial quilts and woodcut prints. The works on view will explore central themes of legacies of colonial power, sites of refuge and shelter. Shonibare’s new works centre on conflicts and related migration, and conversations on public sculptures and their significance in our cities. The exhibition will also delve into the ecological impact of colonisation, the European legacy of imperialism and consequential attempts at peace.

Speaking on the ongoing exhibition, Yinka Shonibare said, “My work has always been about the crossing of boundaries; geographically, visually, historically, and


“Suspended States is an exhibition that addresses the suspension of boundaries, whether psychological, physical, or geographical, all boundaries of nationhood are in a state of suspense. This is an exhibition in which Western iconography is reimagined and interrogated, at a moment in history when nationalism, protectionism and hostility towards foreigners are on the rise.”

Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine and Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director, Serpentine, said: “The first institutional exhibition of Yinka Shonibare CBE was held here at Serpentine 32 years ago, and it is a special honour to welcome the artist back to the galleries. As a multidisciplinary storyteller, Shonibare’s work epitomises Serpentine’s mission of building new connections between artists and society.

“Suspended States continues in Shonibare’s career-long interrogation of colonial histories and the legacies of public art, a line of questioning we could not be prouder to share with audiences in London for the first time in decades.”

The new installation, Sanctuary City comprises a series of miniature buildings, which are currently or have historically been places of refuge for persecuted and vulnerable groups.

These include recent buildings such as Hotel des Mille Collines, Rwanda, and refuge’s headquarters in London; sites of worship such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, and the Chinese Methodist Church, Hong Kong; ancient sites Temple of Theseus, Greece and the Tokeiji Temple, Japan will also be included in the large-scale installation. Each model is painted black, with Dutch wax print interiors illuminated with lights from within, creating a sombre atmosphere to contemplate humanitarian needs for shelter around the world.

The artist describes the shelter crisis as “one of the most pressing political concerns right Continuing Shonibare’s Library series is The War Library, the second new installation in the show which features 5,000 books bound in Dutch wax print with gold lettering on the spines indicating conflicts and peace treaties with links to imperial ambitions.

Shonibare reflects that this work raises questions about “human memory and amnesia.”

Central to the exhibition are themes of climate emergency and food sustainability. The series of African Bird Magic quilts juxtaposes images of African artefacts which inspired Western Modernism with images of endangered African birds. These pieces explore the degradation of the African environment through colonial industrialisation and its disastrous effects on ecology.

The exhibition will also explore how Shonibare’s social practice is an important extension of his visual one. The artist has developed and built two new artist residency spaces in Lagos and Ijebu, Nigeria, that opened in May 2022.

Outside the village of Ikise near Ijebu Ode, is a working farm, two hours from Lagos that focuses on trans-disciplinary craft, design, art and the environment, food sustainability and agriculture.

Yinka Shonibare CBE said: “I established the farm because I realised the importance of researching nature, developing creative projects and celebrating the relationship with nature and the notion of food sustainability. It is very important, particularly for a place like Nigeria where food is heavily imported. The farm is a place where we’re growing food and where creative people can stay. It’s about entering my studio practice as well as my social practice.”

Also, Shonibare’s Creatures of the Mappa Mundi draws from the imagery of Hereford Cathedral’s medieval map. The works look at the history of xenophobia in European history and the resulting extinction of species. Shonibare explains: “The map reflects our contemporary concerns of fear of the stranger or “other” which often leads to xenophobia. The depictions of extinct creatures of legend are a reminder that we may yet become extinct if we do not take care of our environment.”

Throughout the exhibition are works incorporating Shonibare’s signature use of Dutch wax print, a symbol of the tangled relationship between Africa and Europe. The brightly coloured fabric was inspired by Indonesian batik designs, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to British colonies in West Africa.

Replicas of London public monuments including colonial figures such as Queen Victoria and Herbert Kitchener,1st Earl Kitchener have been scaled down and painted with Dutch wax print-style patterns to query their public authority in the series Decolonised Structures.

These works draw attention to the role of the original monuments and question their continued presence in the public realm.

They parallel Unstructured Icons and Cowboy Angels featuring African masks superimposed over the faces of Western power holders and cowboys. Unstructured Icons highlight luxurious lifestyles supported by colonisation and the importance of African art to the global culture and economy.

Shonibare is also featuring in the official Nigerian Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia from April 20-November 24, 2024, one of eight intergenerational artists exhibiting in Nigerian imaginary, which contemplates the current moment and presents a defiant future for Nigeria. He will also feature as one of the artists exhibiting at the main Venice Biennale exhibition Foreigners Everywhere, curated by Adriano Pedrosa at the Arsenale.

Accompanying the Serpentine exhibition is a catalogue designed by A Practice for Everyday Life with newly commissioned texts by Nkiru Nzegwu, a distinguished SUNY professor; Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford, director of V&A East; Péju Oshin, curator and poet; Alayo Akinkugbe, writer, researcher, and creator of A Black History of Art and Ann Marie Pena, chair of Curatorial Programme and a founding trustee of the Yinka Shonibare Foundation.

The exhibition is curated by Tamsin Hong, exhibitions curator, and Alexa Chow, exhibitions assistant curator, in close collaboration with the artist, and is produced by Halime Ozdemir, production manager.