‘Imagined as the Truth’: The power and whimsy of Yinka Shonibare’s photographyTop Highlights, The Arts Thursday, August 9th, 2012
I first came across the work of Yinka Shonibare, MBE when I was at grad school. My photography was all about staging naked guys in regular houses in Normal Heights in order to comment on the historical trajectory of the LGBT community. I looked around to see who else was doing anything similarly staged. One Google click led to another and Shonibare’s images entered my orbit: No nudity I am afraid, but eye-catching and provocative nonetheless. I use Shonibare’s photographs to this day in my Intro to Photography classes to disrupt commonplace and often incorrect ideas about race, identity and history.
As you may know, I have been visiting the San Diego Museum of Art on a weekly basis these past two months. Midway through July I was delighted to find a tiny gallery right next to my quilt project transformed into a video installation by Shonibare, titled Imagined as the Truth. It is up until Sept. 23.
The power and whimsy inherent in Yinka Shonibare’s work from the past two decades are as nuanced as the complex topics he investigates, namely those of colonialism and its lasting impacts. An argument with a professor at Goldsmiths College in the 1980s forced the artist to defend whether or not he should be making “authentic” African art, and the experience encouraged him to continue investigating the very notion of historical authenticity. This investigation has taken the form of videos, paintings, photographs and, most notably, sculptures. Shonibare’s hybridized works are, in a way, a reflection of the artist’s own identity as a British-born, Nigerian artist but, more than anything, they focus on the important practice of investigating and subsequently revisioning history. The works make several references to actual events and historical figures, at once displaying the artist’s own knowledge of art and cultural history, and pointing out art’s complicity in constructing specific historical narratives.
This installation of works by Shonibare offers a striking counterpoint to the museum’s temporary exhibition of 15th century tapestries, The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries, on view in the lower galleries. The latter features stunning textiles that served as legitimations of colonial ambitions during the Age of Discovery. Contrasting Shonibare’s works with the Pastrana tapestries allows the museum to use art as the means to instigate dialogue about the legacy of colonialism and the importance of historical investigation.
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