Yinka Shonibare: Suspended States Explores Boundaries and Histories At The Serpentine

Yinka Shonibare @artlyst 2024

London’s Serpentine is poised to host a transformative encounter with British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s multifaceted practice in a highly-anticipated solo exhibition titled “Suspended States.” Representing the artist’s first major showcase in over two decades within a London public institution, this exhibition marks a poignant return to Serpentine, where Shonibare first exhibited in 1992 as a finalist in the Barclays Young Artist Award.

Scheduled to run from 12th April to 1st September 2024 at Serpentine South, “Suspended States” promises a rich exploration of contemporary themes interwoven with historical narratives, encapsulating Shonibare’s expansive oeuvre. This exhibition coincides with the artist’s participation in the prestigious 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia in April 2024, amplifying the global resonance of his artistic inquiries.

A testament to Shonibare’s artistic evolution, “Suspended States” presents an array of new and recent installations, sculptures, pictorial quilts, and woodcut prints. At its core, the exhibition navigates the complex legacies of colonial power, notions of refuge, and the ecological ramifications of imperialism. Shonibare’s evocative works prompt critical reflections on conflicts, migration, and the evolving discourse surrounding public sculptures in contemporary urban landscapes.

Central to the exhibition is the monumental installation “Sanctuary City,” a poignant tribute to spaces of refuge and sanctuary for persecuted communities across time and geography. Miniature replicas of iconic structures, from the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Rwanda to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, are meticulously rendered in sombre hues, illuminated from within to evoke contemplation on the global imperative for shelter and protection.

In “The War Library,” Shonibare harnesses the symbolic power of literature to dissect narratives of conflict and peace, weaving together 5,000 books bound in Dutch wax print. Each spine bears the imprint of historical treaties and imperial ambitions, inviting viewers to reckon with collective memory and the persistent spectre of forgetting.

Through the “African Bird Magic” quilts, Shonibare intertwines images of endangered avian species with motifs of African artefacts, unravelling the ecological ramifications of colonial exploitation and industrialization on the African landscape. The quilts serve as testimonials to environmental degradation and the urgent need for sustainable stewardship.

Beyond the confines of the gallery space, Shonibare’s social practice extends to creating artist residency spaces in Lagos and Ijebu, Nigeria. These initiatives underscore his commitment to fostering creative dialogue and environmental sustainability, offering a nexus for interdisciplinary exploration amidst Nigeria’s rich cultural tapestry.

“Creatures of the Mappa Mundi” and “Decolonized Structures” further deepen the thematic terrain of the exhibition, probing the contours of xenophobia, extinction, and cultural identity within the framework of European history and global interconnectedness. Shonibare’s deft integration of Dutch wax print fabric underscores the intricate interplay between Africa and Europe, foregrounding questions of agency and representation.

As “Suspended States” unfolds, viewers are invited to embark on a transcendent journey through Shonibare’s expansive artistic universe, where boundaries blur, histories converge, and the contours of identity are continually reimagined. Serpentine’s CEO, Bettina Korek, and Artistic Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, herald the exhibition as a testament to Shonibare’s enduring legacy and unwavering commitment to challenging entrenched narratives of power and privilege.

Accompanied by a meticulously curated catalogue featuring insights from luminaries such as Nkiru Nzegwu and Gus Casely-Hayford, “Suspended States” emerges as a pivotal milestone in Shonibare’s illustrious career, offering audiences a profound opportunity to engage with the complexities of our shared past and the promise of a more equitable future.

Top Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2024

 Yinka Shonibare “Suspended States” 12th April to 1st September 2024, Serpentine South

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