As part of the 14-18 NOW programme of arts commissions commemorating the centenary of the First World War, a major new work, End of Empire, by leading contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare MBE has gone on show at Turner Contemporary
. The commission marks the fifth anniversary of the gallery.
The new work explores how alliances forged in the First World War changed British society forever, and continue to affect us today. It features two figures dressed in the artists signature bright and patterned fabrics, their globe-heads highlighting the countries involved in the First World War. Seated on a Victorian seesaw, the entire work slowly pivots in the gallery space, offering a metaphor for dialogue, balance and conflict, while symbolising the possibility of compromise and resolution between two opposing forces.
Yinka Shonibare MBE said The work entitled End of Empire is a metaphor for the shifting movement of balance and disagreement in the process of negotiation. The two opposing sides of the First World War are represented on a seesaw, as the seesaw moves out of balance we see points of menacing movements which signify what we now know to be the dark painful doom of disagreement which led to the war.
Presented alongside this new commission is Shonibares The British Library, a colourful work, celebrating and questioning how immigration has contributed to the British culture that we live in today. Shelves of books covered in Dutch wax printed cotton textile fill the gallery, their spines bearing the names of immigrants who have enriched British society. From T.S. Eliot and Hans Holbein to Zaha Hadid, The British Library reminds us that the displacement of communities by global war has consequences that inform our lives and attitudes today.
Elected a Royal Academician in 2013, Yinka Shonibare has just finished a vast artwork that wraps around the front of the Burlington Gardens building, while the façade undergoes restoration work as part of the RAs redevelopment project. The wrap is due to be installed later in the spring. The work features hundreds of photos from the early 20th century showing how the building has changed. The artist's designs also feature on the new RA Friends cards and RA merchandise.
Yinka Shonibare was born in London in 1962 and grew up in the UK and Nigeria. In the 1980s he studied in London at the Byam Shaw School of Art and graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1991. Over the past decade, he has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. Working in painting, sculpture, photography, film and installation, Shonibares work examines race, class and the construction of cultural identity through sharp political commentary of the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Shonibare uses wry citations of Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities. In 2004 he was nominated for the Turner Prize and in 2010 his first public art commission, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle opened on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. He is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; James Cohan Galleries, New York & Shanghai; Blain Southern Gallery, Berlin; and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, Shanghai & Singapore.