Before I get the chance to visit the Yinka Shonibare EXHIBITION at the YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK I wanted to think more deeply about his use of fabric. His Wikipedia entry says;
A key material in Shonibare’s work since 1994 are the brightly coloured ‘African’ fabrics (Dutch wax-printed cotton) that he buys himself from Brixton market in London. “But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think,” says Shonibare. “They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture – it’s an artificial construct.” Today the main exporters of ‘African’ fabric from Europe are based in Manchester in the UK and Vlisco Véritable Hollandais from Helmond in the Netherlands. He has these fabrics made up into Victorian dresses, covering sculptures of alien figures or stretched onto canvases and thickly painted over.
This quote appears often in discussions of Shonibare’s work and accepting this means that we must accept that Shonibare has chosen to use fabric deliberately because of the perceived multiple meanings contained within the fabric.
While these and similar fabrics may have originally been imposed on African populations , they are now well integrated – Nelson Mandela’s shirts- and similar fabrics are now produced in Africa. Does this invalidate Shonibare’s view of the in-authenticity of the fabrics?
The references to colonialism in the use of fabric are now well acknowledged , however what is implied by the use of fabric at all?
If we ignore the patterning on the fabric, Shonibare’s use of fabric seems to be fairly conventional. Costumes, wall and furniture coverings. In fact this could be considered as a very feminine use, fabric not often appearing in crafts followed by men. The articles using the fabric are well made and certainly superficially only challenge us because the patterning and colours are unexpected.
The meaning of the use of fabric (ignoring the patterning ) is not addressed in any discussion of Shonibare’s work.
Some questions I need to think about.
What would happen to the work if some other fabric was used?
Is the importance of the work contained mainly in the fabric?
How else could the ideas of colonialism be addressed?