Yinka Shonibare CBE was born in 1962 in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art, first at Byam School of Art (now Central Saint Martins College) and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA.
Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and film. Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured ‘African’ batik fabric he buys in London. This type of fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. In the 1960s the material became a new sign of African identity and independence.
Shonibare was a Turner prize nominee in 2004, and was also awarded the decoration of Member of the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ or MBE, a title he has added to his professional name. Shonibare was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor at Documenta 11, Kassel, in 2002 to create his most recognised work ‘Gallantry and Criminal Conversation’ that launched him on to an international stage. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennale and internationally at leading museums. In September 2008, his major mid-career survey commenced at the MCA Sydney and then toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He was elected as a Royal Academician by the Royal Academy, London in 2013.
Shonibare’s work, ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ was the 2010 Fourth Plinth Commission, and was displayed in Trafalgar Square, London, until January 2012. It was the first commission by a black British artist and was part of a national fundraising campaign organized by the Art Fund and the National Maritime Museum, who have now successfully acquired the sculpture for permanent display outside the museum’s new entrance in Greenwich Park, London.
In 2012, the Royal Opera House, London, commissioned ‘Globe Head Ballerina’ (2012) to be displayed on the exterior of the Royal Opera House, overlooking Russell Street in Covent Garden. The life-sized ballerina encased within a giant ‘snow globe’ spins slowly as if caught mid-dance, the piece appears to encapsulate a moment of performance as if stolen from the stage of the Royal Opera House.
In 2014, Doughty Hanson & Co Real Estate and Terrace Hill, commissioned ‘Wind Sculpture’ and it is installed in Howick Place, London. Measuring 6 metres by 3 metres, it explores the notion of harnessing movement through the idea of capturing and freezing a volume of wind in a moment in time.
In 2017, Wind Sculpture VI was featured in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of the Arts, London as part of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Shonibare was also commissioned by the Yale Center for British Art to create Mrs Pinckney and the Emancipated Birds of South Carolina for inclusion in ‘Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World’, which went on display at Kensington Palace, London in 2017.
In 2018, Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Wind Sculpture (SG) III’ (2018) and ‘The African Library’ (2018) was exhibited in a large solo exhibition at the Norval Foundation, Cape Town.
In 2019, Yinka Shonibare was awarded the decoration of CBE. Shonibare’s sculpture ‘Refugee Astronaut’ is permanently exhibited in the Wellcome Collection, London.
In 2020, ‘The American Library,’ (2018) was exhibited at ICA Boston, United States as part of their group exhibition ‘When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration Through Contemporary Art.’ Shonibare’s two films ‘Odile and Odette,’ (2005) and ‘Addio del Passato,’ (2011) was exhibited in M Woods’ Temple Galleries in Beijing.
In March 2021, Yinka Shonibare CBE will be awarded the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award.
Shonibare’s works are included in prominent collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome and VandenBroek Foundation, The Netherlands.