Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA): Dreaming Rich

Q & A between Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) and Curator David Chan


Why do you title this exhibition Dreaming Rich?

I chose this title because it came out of the difficulty of straight and moralistic criticism of the financial system as we are all part of we must all earn money, build our pensions and have homes to live in if we want to be  ‘comfortable’.  The title is a critique of the financial system as well as aspirational.


Can you talk about your interest in exploring humanity and in particular when survival turns to greed and excess?

All art is about seeing the world in a different way. Therefore the current issues and concerns cannot be avoided in the making of the work.


You are both inside and outside and your in-between cultural identity offers you a unique position to question our arbitrary belief system, how do you see our current belief and system?

Artists have to challenge all hierarchies and stereotypes within society.  My cultural background means I don’t necessarily feel I have to choose over the other.  I can exist in both simultaneously.


How do you define the powerful and the powerless? What are the connections between wealth and labor in the post colonial turned global context of Hong Kong where there was a growing disparity between the rich and the poor?

In Hong Kong ‘ordinary’ people can no longer afford to buy real estate because wealthy people are creating property inflation.  Because of the increasing wealth of the already wealthy, life has not improved for ordinary people.  The wealth gap now is far bigger than it was even 40 years ago.  This phenomenon does seem to be a global phenomenon; it is also true in the UK and the United States.


Can you explain the selection of artworks for this solo exhibition and what do you want to achieve at Pearl Lam Gallery?

Following the success at the Hong Kong Art Fair, I would very much like to continue that dialogue with the people of HK.  I am looking forward to my work gaining further exposure in Hong Kong.


The champagne kids convey a sense of hallucination/escapism while the Cake man alludes to suffering and human labor, how do you see the relationship between the kids and the cake man?

The man represents gluttony, whilst the kids represent careless intoxication.


You mentioned before that the audience will be presented with a series of beautiful and spectacular objects, an enchantment will soon be followed by a sour taste, after looking at the artworks a while they do not seem what they are. Can you elaborate more on this epiphany and what do you want the audience to get in the end?

The artist does not necessarily need to explain everything they get from the work.  The audiences are invited to bring their own experience to the works – some may be disgusted and some may celebrate them, but both emotions are welcome.


How do you choose materials for making the artworks for this show and their significance and symbolism? [e.g. the sculptures, the toys for the large scale Hong Kong Toy Painting and Dreaming Rich Painting] Are the chairs found objects? Beyond the fabric’s ambiguity of heritage, are the specific patterns relevant to the individual works? The globe heads, do they spin like globes and are they replicas for any specific globes or places on the globe?

The toys were chosen by Pearl Lam Gallery, as I wanted the toys to be from Hong Kong.  The patterns are not chosen for specific works.  For the sculptures I choose fabrics that best work aesthetically together.  The globes do not spin as real globes do.  The globe represents what the work is about; it acts like a brain on the outside.  The figures are not literal people – they represent ideas.


Dreaming Rich Painting and the Hong Kong Toy Painting are rather unconventional means of presenting painting, do you see them as a conscious rejection of the classical canon of painting?

The paintings are a direct challenge to the art historical modernist canon.  The greed in modernism is further disrupted by the introduction of the post minimalist pattern from popular culture into the work.