Yinka Shonibare CBE: Suspended States

Serpentine South Gallery 12 April - 1 September 2024 Free

Walk-ups are welcome. Tickets are available to book online for guaranteed timed entry.

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Suspended States addresses the suspension of boundaries, whether psychological, physical, or geographical — all boundaries of nationhood are in a state of suspense. This is an exhibition in which Western iconography is reimagined and interrogated, at a moment in history when Nationalism, protectionism and hostility towards foreigners is on the rise.” – Yinka Shonibare CBE

For over 30 years, Yinka Shonibare CBE has used Western art history and literature to explore contemporary culture and national identities. Suspended States is the artist’s first London solo exhibition in over 20 years. It showcases new works, interrogating how systems of power affect sites of refuge, debates on public statues, the ecological impact of colonialisation and the legacy of imperialism on conflict and consequential attempts at peace.

The exhibition includes two new major installations at Serpentine South. Sanctuary City (2024) is comprised of miniature buildings representing places of refuge for persecuted and vulnerable groups. The War Library (2024) consists of 5,000 books bound in Dutch wax print representing conflicts and peace treaties.

Throughout the exhibition Shonibare’s signature use of Dutch wax print symbolises the tangled relationship between Africa and Europe. This brightly coloured fabric was inspired by Indonesian batik designs, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to British colonies in West Africa, where it later was referred to as ‘African print.’ In Decolonised Structures (2022-2023) the artist paints these patterns on his smaller-scale replicas of London’s large public sculptures. Reconstructing colonial figures such as Queen Victoria and Herbert Kitchener, Shonibare questions the role and presence of these monuments.

Additional works highlight luxurious lifestyles supported by colonisation and the importance of African art to global culture. Shonibare also draws links between the history of xenophobia and the impact of colonisation on the environment in his quilts, including his new series African Bird Magic (2024).

The exhibition also highlights Shonibare’s social practice including his Guest Project experimental space in Hackney and the Guest Artist Space (G.A.S.) Foundation he launched in Nigeria in 2019.

Artist biography

About Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (b. 1962, London, United Kingdom) has an interdisciplinary practice which uses Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities within the context of globalisation. As a celebrated British-Nigerian artist working between London and Lagos, Shonibare was awarded the honour of ‘Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ in 2019.  

In 2004, he was nominated for the Turner Prize and in 2008 and in 2010, his first public art commission, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, was displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. The Tetley commissioned Shonibare’s Hibiscus Rising, a major public memorial in Leeds for David Oluwale, which opened in November 2023.  

In November 2022, Shonibare launched Guest Artists Space (G. A. S.) Foundation, a non-profit based in Nigeria dedicated to facilitating cultural exchange through residencies, public programmes, and exhibition opportunities. 

Shonibare’s works are in notable museum collections both local and international, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

From the Archive

Yinka Shonibare CBE first exhibited at Serpentine in 1992 as a finalist in the Barclays Young Artist Award. Nine artists were selected from the previous year’s London post-graduate degree exhibitions at Chelsea College of Art and Design, Goldsmiths College, The Royal Academy Schools, The Royal College of Art and The Slade School of Fine Art.

It was his first institutional group show. He presented Double Dutch, a work that featured small canvases of stretched printed cotton, allowing viewers to contemplate the Indonesian-inspired print exported to West Africa by Dutch manufacturers.

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