I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself. Greenwich is on my doorstep and I completely take it for granted. The Queen’s House (separate post coming up) is one of its treasures. I’ve walked past the grand house numerous times but finally went in recently to see the Yinka Shonibare MBE at Greenwich exhibition that is currently on.
Royal Museums Greenwich contemporary arts programme has invited acclaimed artists to respond to the Greenwich World Heritage Site. Yinka Shonibare MBE at Greenwich is part of that initiative and features a new commission and artworks on display in the UK for the first time.
Yinka Shonibare MBE is a British born artist with Nigerian roots, whose most famous work is probably ‘Nelson’s Ship In A Bottle’, world’s largest ship in a bottle, which stood on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for some time. Made using Dutch wax fabric, the sculpture is a 1:30 scale replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory on which he died during the Battle of Trafalgar. It is now on permanent display outside the National Maritime Museum.
Dutch wax is seen as quintessentially West African but originally came from Indonesian batik, which Dutch traders mass produced. After unsuccessfully trying to sell in Europe and other colonies they hit pay dirt in West Africa. Shonibare’s work constantly explores the complexities of cultural appropriation, identity and the tangled web of associations and reinvention of traditions.
Yinka Shonibare MBE said: ‘Britain’s maritime history has undoubtedly made a large contribution to the history of multi-culturalism in Britain. Indeed my own identity has been shaped by this history. Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle and other works I will be presenting at Royal Museums Greenwich, are a playful and provocative way of exploring multiculturalism in Britain today.
Lord Horatio Nelson, legendary naval hero and one of Britain’s icons, is the key figure in most of the artworks on display. Most of the pieces are part of a series focussing on his death, in a tongue in cheek manner (yes really!) and his long suffering wife, Frances Nisbet. His private life was rather scandalous and in this day and age he’d have been called a ‘Love Rat’ on the front of the tabloids and probably be seeking injunctions!
I found it to be a really successful marriage between Shonibare’s work and the historic setting of The Queen’s House. The curator has done a great job of surrounding Shonibare’s artworks with old historical pieces from the museum’s collection that work in harmony and add resonance.
This is the last week ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE at Greenwich’ is on – it ends on 23 February 2014. Free entry (London I love you) to The Queen’s House, Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house
Visit www.yinkashonibarembe.com for more information on the artist.