Like a sex machine

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Addio del Passato at James Cohan Gallery

The key characteristic of Yinka Shonibare’s work is his use of Dutch wax fabric. Based on Indonesian batik fabrics but manufactured in Europe by the Dutch, who then exported it to West Africa when it failed to catch on in the Netherlands, and bought by Shonibare from Brixton market in London, the fabric has connotations of colonialism, post-colonialism and the movement of cultures thereby engendered and of the multi-culturalism of contemporary London. Thus it neatly connects the different aspects Shonibare’s own background as a British-born, Nigerian-raised Londoner and has allowed him to build a practice that is simultaneously coherent and diverse and both serious and playful. These complexities and contradictions are reinforced by Shonibare’s adoption of the letters MBE after his name when he was given the honour in 2005: an artist whose work could be seen as commenting on empire accepted and uses an honour that makes him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

It’s not surprising then the work in Shonibare’s exhibition Addio del Passato at James Cohan Gallery is by turns beautiful and fascinating and very, very funny. Equally unsurprising perhaps is that the work I especially want to write about is all of these things. And also really rather rude…

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