The fabric of Art and Yinka Shonibare

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?

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