Fri 6 Oct 2023 to Sat 11 Nov 2023
Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-5pm
Artist: Yinka Shonibare CBE
Stephen Friedman Gallery presents ‘Free The Wind, The Spirit, and The Sun’ – a new exhibition by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA – and the first to take place at its new London home on Cork Street, Mayfair. Having joined in 1996, Shonibare is one of the gallery’s longest represented artists.
The exhibition includes a group presentation of African artists, and artists from the African diaspora, curated by Shonibare. Some of these artists participated in Shonibare’s residency program at Guest Artists Space Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria. Paintings, sculptures, mixed media pieces and works on paper are exhibited.
Described as a “celebration of nature” by Shonibare, the first two rooms of the exhibition comprise a vibrant body of sculptures, masks and quilts. The show takes inspiration from the dada spirit; formed in Zurich during the First World War at Cabaret Voltaire by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, the movement challenged the bourgeois values and traditions of Western art, from the Renaissance to naturalism and impressionism. Throughout the war, dada artists often staged performances in bewildered, trance-like states, evoking African and Oceanic cultures to express animalism, originality, and freedom.
Shonibare makes references to the leisure activities of the aristocracy and westernised interpretations of African spirituality. A life-size sculpture, ‘Feeling Free Like a Bird’, is based on a portrait of a privileged equestrian painted by George Stubbs, whose studies of the anatomy of animals led him to naturalistic paintings of horses. The woman in the installation is riding side- saddle, reflecting society’s demand for female modesty in both dress and behaviour. She is riding away from such restrictions, carrying native African birds in turn freeing themselves from their cages. These three-dimensional birds come to life from the pictorial quilts in the exhibition, which depict various species made critically endangered by climate change and pollution. The seemingly whimsical becomes an expression of the desire to escape from a world faced with economic challenges and impending environmental catastrophes.
‘Wind Sculpture in Bronze (SG)’ echoes the movement of wind as if it is about to dance or move away. It combines explorations into the physical effect wind has on African textiles and reflects the role it has played in the story of the movement of the African diaspora.
The dada spirit of the exhibition disrupts the notion of geographically determined traditions. Shonibare’s ‘Hybrid Masks’ are a group of zoomorphic masks combining human and animal features that focus on the transformational qualities and spiritual meaning of masquerades in West African regions. They stem from ritualistic practices marking initiation and celebrating harvest and fertility. Dadaists considered these masquerades as a rejection of the whole of Western civilisation as well as an anti-war protest.
The exhibition is an expression of freedom in the creative community, and this is explored in the final room by the nine artists. G.A.S Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to facilitating international cultural exchange, developing creative and research practices through residencies and collaborations.