Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2010
Vehicles? Mention of the fourth plinth? Those who have been paying attention could probably have predicted Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle as the subject of my next post. And here it is. (Those now thinking the next one will be about Elmgreen and Dragset’s haven’t been paying attention quite long enough though; I’ve written about that already.) I’ve liked quite a few of the works commissioned for the fourth plinth – the plinth in the North West corner of Trafalgar Square in London originally intended to host some general or other on a horse, I think – but Sonibare’s is definitely one of the ones that I enjoyed the most. It’s the sort of work I couldn’t resist going to have another look at when I was nearby, the sort of work that unfailingly made me smile even on the greyest day.
Yonka Shonibare, Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 11.00 Hours, 1998
For Yinka Shonibare, Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress was a starting point for an exploration of art history and the representation of black people rather than something to be reworked for a new time. And with a fascination with the Victorian era, Shonibare chose to change both the narrative and the period in which it’s set, creating a series of photographs called Diary of a Victorian Dandy, made over a period of three days at a stately home in Herefordshire. And though Hogarth’s series is a clear inspiration, the story of Shonibare’s dandy is told in five scenes seemingly taking place in a 24 hour period and each titled with just the time of day. The dandy – played by the artist – rises late. He is attended by many servants; contrary to the narrative we see played out across the history of Western painting, it is the dandy who is black rather than one of the servants who seem to dote on him.