Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The British Library, taken from Turner Contemporary
Yinka Shonibare’s work blurs easy distinctions people make and the categories created between class, race, identity, belonging, and reality. His biggest concern seems to be the complicated historical relationship between the West and the South, and his wide range of work re-present those interactions and influences in ways that conventional analyses miss.
There is a tendency to read Shonibare’s work as essentially postmodern. An interpretation of this nature would go along with Victoria Rovine’s very important note that “forms identified with (African) tradition and those associated with (Western) fashion may interact, blend, and elucidate each other as part of the negotiations by which contemporary identities are declared. Just as Western designers have long drawn inspiration from African forms, so too have African designers been influenced by Western styles, techniques, and materials.”* While this conclusion may not be wrong, the artist himself has no interest in easy conclusions. There is an underlining sarcasm and mockery in his work and personal interviews which, rather than de-confirming notions of originality and authenticity, question the process that created products like the so-called African textile without failing to locate its original identity.
*Rovine, Victoria. “Fashionable Traditions.”