Leading UK contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare is an Honored Member of the Order of the British Empire, which is why the moniker MBE has become integral to his title. As one of the most revered and well-recognized contemporary artists in the world today, the name Yinka is synonymous with historical allusions.
Yinka’s amalgamations of noteworthy moments in international and artistic histories imitate his own hybrid Nigerian and British identity. His wax fabrics, which have a complex yet sophisticated pedigree have truly become is signature as is evidenced by the artist’s love for exquisite period costumes, and headless mannequins that mimic classic scenes from world history.
The End of the Empire
Yinka created The End of the Empire to commemorate the centenary celebrations for World War One in England. Margate’s Turner Contemporary, the premier gallery in the town commissioned the piece from Shonibare to comment on the balance of power in Somme 1916 that saw almost one million combatants dead or wounded in the World War offensive.
The End of Empire was created using Dutch wax fabrics that were historically inspired by Indonesian batiks. Oddly, these wax fabrics are today part of African authenticity and it is no wonder that Yinka has opted to feature them heavily in his creations. The End of the Empire featured two Victorian male figures that were both dressed in Victorian costumes fashioned from African textiles. Both the Victorian men had globe heads to represent the opposing sides of World War 1. The alliance by the French and British, as well as that, is the Austro-Hungarians and the Germans are what primarily led to the battle of Somme and this was aptly represented by the slow-moving see-saw that had both foes sitting on each end.
To create the piece, Shonibare had to immerse himself in months of extensive reading and research to be able to capture the spirit of imperialism, as well as colonization. This understanding of what occurred in history is what helped the artist to design an installation that could demonstrate the effects of the war in the hopes that people would finally reconcile or finally come to terms with an aspect of history that is only ever told in today’s classrooms. Offering a metaphor of dialogue, conflict, and balance, the End of Empire was designed to finally force a resolution between the two opposing forces of the World Wars.
In part owing to his continued experimentation with varying forms of media, Shonibare’s art, even the End of an Empire challenges simple categorization, which is probably why Yinka is so critically acclaimed.
Video of ‘End of Empire’
Video interview with Yinka Shonibare MBE