Yinka Shonibare MBE was born in 1962 in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art first at Central Saint Martins College and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA.
Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and film. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial’ hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured “African” fabric he buys at Brixton market. The fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. In the 1960s, the material became a new sign of African identity and independence.
Shonibare was a Turner prize nominee in 2004, and he was also awarded the decoration of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire or MBE. He has added this title to his professional name. He was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor at Documenta 10 in 2002 to create his most recognised work Gallantry and Criminal Conversation that launched him onto an international stage. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennale and internationally at leading museums worldwide. In September 2008, his major mid-career survey commenced at the MCA Sydney and then toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Shonibare has also been elected as a Sculptor in the Royal Academy of Arts, making him part of a select society of at most 80 practicing artists working in the UK. This honour, historically a way to distinguish an artist as a professional in Britain, is the art community’s recognition of the significance of Shonibare’s work.
Shonibare’s work Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle was the 2010 Fourth Plinth Commission, and was displayed in Trafalgar Square, London until January 2012. It was the first commission by a black British artist and was part of a national fundraising campaign organised by the Art Fund and the National Maritime Museum, who have now successfully acquired the sculpture permanently for display outside the museum’s new entrance in Greenwich Park, London.
In 2012, the Royal Opera House commissioned Globe Head Ballerina to be displayed on the exterior of the Royal Opera House, overlooking Russell Street in Covent Garden. The life-sized ballerina encased within a giant ‘snow globe’ spins slowly as if caught mid-dance. The piece appears to encapsulate a moment of performance as if stolen from the stage of the Royal Opera House.
In 2014, a permanent public commission of Wind Sculpture was unveiled at Howick Place, London, England. Wind Sculpture was also shown as part of his solo exhibition at Royal Museums Greenwich in September 2013 and at Frieze Sculpture Park in October 2013. Measuring 6 metres by 3 metres, the work explores the notion of harnessing movement through the idea of capturing and freezing a volume of wind in a moment in time.
Recent solo exhibitions include Paradise Beyond (2016–17), Gemeentemuseum, Helmond, the Netherlands; Childhood Memories (2016), Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore; Wilderness in the Garden (2015), Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea; Colonial Arrangements (2015), Morris-Jamel Mansion, New York, New York, USA; Egg Fight (2014), Foundation Blachère, Apt, France; Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders (2014), The Bares Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; and Cannonball Paradise (2014), Gerisch Stiftung Sculpture Park, Neumünster, Germany. Recent notable group shows include In Search of Meaning: The Human Figure in Global Perspective (2015) Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle, the Netherlands; Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s–1990s (2015), Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists (2015), Frankfurt MMK, Frankfurt, Germany, which was later exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., USA.
Shonibare’s works are included in prominent collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, Rome; and VandenBroek Foundation, the Netherlands.