Using a wide range of media (painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance) British-born Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE, examines the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. The artist continues exploring his interest in colonial and post-colonial imagery in his current show presented by the James Cohan Gallery, Addio del Passato.
Shonibare, famous for his use of brightly colored “African” (Dutch manufactured with patterns influenced by Indonesian batiks) fabrics that he buys himself from Brixton market in London, displays only two of his costumed figures while the main gallery features a series of five new photoworks entitled Fake Death Pictures. The deaths are modeled after Old Master paintings—Shonibare fusing art history with issues of class and race.
The show is centered around Shonibare’s film Addio del Passato (“so closes my sad story”) in which the character of Frances Nisbet, Lord Nelson’s estranged wife, sings the eponymous aria from the last act of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata. Yinka Shonibare’s fascination with Lord Nelson, the figurehead of the British Empire who fell at the Battle of Trafalgar, strengthens as he draws this comparison between then and now, “The Imperial West is in decline at a time of great economic challenges… We are re-experiencing a new Age of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”