Fri 22 Sep 2023 to Sat 4 Nov 2023
Tue-Fri 11am-5.30pm, Sat 11am-2pm
Artist: Yinka Shonibare CBE
Late opening: Thursday 12 October, 6pm-8pm
“We are going through a kind of African renaissance moment now, too, so I wanted to understand the origins of how Black culture became fashionable in Western modernism. I am kind of revisiting how the power of African aesthetics managed to inspire a whole movement in the west.”
Cristea Roberts Gallery presents Ritual Ecstasy of the Modern by Yinka Shonibare CBE. New collaged prints and never-before-seen editioned sculptures of African ritual masks are unveiled alongside earlier works featuring the motif of the all-American cowboy and symbols of the British empire. Showcasing Shonibare’s evolving printmaking practice over the past several years, this exhibition also marks the artist’s first solo show with the gallery.
Throughout this body of work, Shonibare examines the construction of cultural identity and related economic and political histories. The new works represent the tangled relationships between Africa and Europe, illustrating the radical influence of African artefacts on the work of western modernists, from Picasso, Derain, Modigliani, Matisse to Man Ray to the Dada and Surrealist movements.
Shonibare comments; “I discovered that Picasso had a collection of African art. I know by my art education that many modern artists were inspired by African art, and that Black culture was also very popular and very fashionable in the late 20s, in Paris. We are going through a kind of African renaissance moment now, too, so I wanted to understand the origins of how Black culture became fashionable in western modernism. I am kind of revisiting how the power of African aesthetics managed to inspire a whole movement in the west.”
The exhibition begins with Cowboy Angels, 2017, Shonibare’s first substantial print project. Five prints depict winged cowboys whose faces are concealed by African masks, becoming an amalgam of cross-national references. At the time of publication, Cowboy Angels and its distinct American symbolism offered an incisive critique of US politics and the election of Donald Trump.
Shonibare’s second print project Unstructured Icons, 2018, highlights the wealth and excess of imperial Europe reimagined through the lens of historical paintings. Power depicts Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X, also famously appropriated by Francis Bacon. Shonibare’s 2020 print Mayflower, All Flowers, is also informed by history, depicting the famous ship which brought English migrants to North America in the seventeenth century. Created in direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, the artist’s inclusive version of the Mayflower reassembles conflicting histories into bold, contemporary images.
Recently Shonibare has explored the influence of African culture within western modernism; his series Modern Magic, 2021, features five prints that incorporate African artefacts from the collection of Pablo Picasso, whereas the new series, Modern Spiritual, 2023, depicts ritual masks and relics discovered in the collections of prominent modernists artists including André Derain and Tristan Tzara. Across both groups of work Shonibare reappropriates the harlequin motif, a geometric pattern frequently used by Picasso to symbolise the trickster. By reinterpreting this symbolism, Shonibare questions modes of appropriation and authenticity, whilst also highlighting the legacy of African art.
The show also includes five small sculptures of African masks entitled African Roots of Modernism, 2023, which have been painted with Dutch wax batik patterns, a key feature of the artist’s visual vocabulary. The recurring use of batik within Shonibare’s prints and these new sculptures, alludes to complicated colonial histories. Originally inspired by Indonesian design, batik fabric was mass-produced by the Dutch in the 1800s and then sold to the nation’s colonies in West Africa, where, ironically, it became a symbol of African identity and independence. By employing batik patterns, the artist acknowledges the legacy of African aesthetics and the history of modernism while conceptualising his sculptures as ritual objects with power in their own right.