Yinka Shonibare Installation Acquired By Washington’s Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

A major artwork by the celebrated Turner Prize winning British contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare MBE has been acquired by The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington. The permanent installation of sculpture “Wind Sculpture VII” made its Smithsonian debut Saturday, Dec. 3; it has been installed in front of the National Museum of African Art. 

Part of a series of seven individually designed sculptures, “Wind Sculpture VII” is the first artwork installed permanently in front of the museum. Constructed from fiberglass, this unique, gold-leaf version of Shonibare’s Wind Sculptures series evokes the sails of ships that have crossed the Atlantic and other oceans, connecting nations through the exchange of ideas, products and people. In its form, it captures histories that can be inspiring or brutal but always complex. It suggests that the opening of the seas led not only to the slave trade and colonization but also to the dynamic contributions of Africans and African heritage worldwide. Using yellow, blue, rose and gold, Shonibare celebrates the African men, women and children who have shaped the United States, Great Britain and other nations of today and for the future.

“The museum is proud to present this stunning and monumental public sculpture at the museum,” said Karen Milbourne, curator and project lead. “This work of art will transform the façade of our museum and pay tribute to the connections between Africa and America. The patterns emblazoned on this sculpture replicate so-called ‘African print cloth,’ which are in fact based on Indonesian batiks manufactured in the Netherlands and United Kingdom, and then exported to West Africa where they have become synonymous with African identity. Shonibare draws on this entangled history to direct attention to the global connections that unite individuals and communities worldwide. Africa’s global connections and the vision of its artists are the focus of this national museum; this sculpture will inspire visitors and spark conversation.”

Throughout the past decade, Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the context of globalization. Working in painting, sculpture, photography, film, and performance, Shonibare’s work examines race, class and the construction of cultural identity. Through sharp political commentary of the interrelationships between Africa and Europe’s economic and political histories and wry citations of Western art history and literature, Shonibare questions the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities.

Shonibare was born in the United Kingdom in 1962 and moved to Lagos, Nigeria, at the age of 3. He returned to London to receive his MFA from Goldsmiths College, a part of the “Young British Artists” generation. He gained notoriety on the international stage via his commission for Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 10 and was a Turner Prize nominee in 2004. In 2005 he was awarded the decoration of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a title that he officially added on his professional name. His works were featured in the 52nd Venice Biennale and a major mid-career survey toured 2008-09. In 2011, the artist’s sculpture “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” was selected for Trafalgar Square’s prestigious commission series. Shonibare’s works are included in many prestigious public collections spanning the globe. He currently lives and works in London’s East End.