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Exhibition at Royal Museums Greenwich presents a series of works by Yinka Shonibare MBE
Fake Death Picture (The Suicide - Manet). Photograph courtesy of James Cohan Gallery.

GREENWICH.- This autumn Royal Museums Greenwich presents a series of works by the critically acclaimed artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, including a new site-specific commission and sculptures never before seen in the UK. The works respond to the historic surroundings of the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich, while also exploring themes of Britishness, trade and empire, commemoration and national identity, which are central to both Shonibare’s work and the Museum’s collections.

In the Queen’s House, Shonibare’s continuing engagement with the figure of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson is played out through displays across three rooms. Nelson’s Jacket and Fanny’s Dress, both shown in the UK for the first time, take the form of two sculptural installations of period costumes made in the artist’s signature Dutch wax fabric. Placed in the North-East and North-West Parlours respectively, they seem to look towards each other across the magnificent Great Hall.

The Fake Death Pictures series depict five visions of Nelson’s death, all very different from his fatal wounding at the battle of Trafalgar. Each photograph recreates a famous artistic death scene, referencing paintings by Leonardo Alenza y Nieto, Édouard Manet, Henry Wallis, Bartolomé Carducho and François-Guillaume Ménageot, with Nelson at the centre rather than the original subjects. The Fake Death Pictures are interspersed with objects from the Museum’s collections, chosen by the artist and relating to the life and loves of the naval hero. Viewing Shonibare’s works alongside these historical artefacts creates a powerful juxtaposition – the original tellers of the Nelson story and the artist’s response, an alternative version of that story.

The Queen’s House lawn will be dominated by Wind Sculpture, previously debuted at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Measuring six metres by three metres, and painted with a Batik pattern, it is seen as a gravity-defying object, exploring the notion of capturing and freezing a volume of wind in a moment in time. The work echoes the billowing sails of a historical ship such as seen in the artist’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle.

At the Royal Observatory a specially commissioned piece, Cheeky Little Astronomer, will be displayed in the Astronomer Royal’s apartments in Flamsteed House. The apartments were once a home, often filled with children, growing up cheek-by-jowl with working astronomers and their instruments. The sculpture, which is the latest in the artist’s Planets in My Head series, reflects the dual nature of the space – its crucial importance to our relationship to the stars and its historical role as a family home.

The final work in Yinka Shonibare MBE at Greenwich is Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle – one of the Fourth Plinth’s most popular commissions and now a permanent part of the National Maritime Museum’s collections. The sculpture is a scale replica of HMS Victory (1:30) in a bottle, measuring 4.7m in length and 2.8m in diameter, with sails made of exuberant and richly patterned textiles. Tying together historical and global threads and traversing oceans and continents, the work considers the complexity of British expansion in trade and empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson's victories provided.

Yinka Shonibare MBE said: ‘Britain's maritime history has undoubtedly made a large contribution to the history of multi-culturalism in Britain. Indeed my own identity has been shaped by this history. Nelson's Ship in a Bottle and other works I will be presenting at Royal Museums Greenwich, are a playful and provocative way of exploring multiculturalism in Britain today.’

Melanie Vandenbrouck, Curator of Art at Royal Museums Greenwich, said: ‘It is exciting to continue the conversation we started with Yinka Shonibare MBE when we acquired Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. Shonibare’s spirited and thought-provoking work resonates in significant ways with this institution. It encourages us to look at our collections with fresh eyes, and ask different questions about our maritime and stargazing past.’

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