NEWARK, NJ.- The Newark Museum
, located in Newark, New Jersey, has commissioned a major site-specific installation by the internationally acclaimed artist Yinka Shonibare MBE to commemorate the Museum's Centennial. One of Shonibare's most ambitious works to date, Party Time: Re-imagine America is set in the mahogany-paneled dining room of the Ballantine House, the 1885 mansion and National Historic Landmark that is part of the Newark Museum campus, where it will be on view through January 3, 2010.
The Newark Museum's Christa Clarke, Curator of the Arts of Africa and Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas, and Ulysses Grant Dietz, Senior Curator and Curator of the Decorative Arts are the co-curators of Party Time: Re-imagine America.
Shonibare's longtime exploration of Victorian-era culture finds full expression in this theatrical sculptural tableau, which imagines the scene of a late 19th century dinner party midway through a multi-course feast. Eight headless figures, dressed in period costume made from the artist's signature "Dutch wax" fabric, are seated around an elaborately set table as a servant appears bearing the main course, a large peacock with gilded beak served on a silver platter. The animated body language of the guests suggests a moment in which proper Victorian etiquette has begun to disintegrate, as an indulgent celebration of prosperity tips towards misbehavior and even debauchery. The scene references the rise of wealth and quest for refinement that accompanied industrialization in the United States, where the elaborate dinner party replaced the bare-minimum meal, becoming a celebratory "eating fest" for the social and economic ruling class.
Born in London, England, and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Yinka Shonibare MBE considers himself to be a "postcolonial hybrid," a product of Britain's colonial relationship with Africa. Shonibare's work is informed by his dual roots in Europe and Africa, and he has explored their intertwined histories through a range of media, including sculpture, painting, photography and film. He is best known for his use of vibrantly patterned "Dutch wax" textiles which have been produced in European factories for West African markets for over a century. Shonibare incorporates the colorful, richly patterned cloth which looks "African" but has more complicated origins as a visual symbol in his work, in part to subvert assumptions about cultural identity and authenticity.
"What I find so magical about Yinka's work and this piece in particular is its synchronicity," says Newark Museum director Mary Sue Sweeney Price. "It resonates with the Newark Museum collection on two levels the Ballantine House offers the ideal setting given Yinka's interest in Victorian themes, and his use of Dutch Wax textile complements our African Art collection, because Newark had a ground-breaking role in collecting and exhibiting these fabrics."
Shonibare's site-specific installation is the second in a series of four artist commissions in honor of the Museum's Centennial presented in 2009 and 2010. The Centennial Commissions respond to the Museum's history and diverse collections, finding points of intersection and connection between seemingly divergent areas of study and display within the Newark Museum.
Concurrent to the Newark Museum commission, The Brooklyn Museum presents the first major survey of the work of Yinka Shonibare MBE on view through September 20, 2009