Imagined as the Truth
The power and whimsy inherent in Yinka Shonibare's work from the past two decades are as nuanced as the complex topics he investigates-namely those of colonialism and its lasting impacts. An argument with a professor at Goldsmith’s College in the 1980s forced the artist to defend whether or not he should be making “authentic” African art, and the experience encouraged him to continue investigating the very notion of historical authenticity. This investigation has taken the form of videos, paintings, photographs, and, most notably, sculptures. Shonibare’s hybridized works are, in a way, a reflection of the artist’s own identity as a British-born, Nigerian artist, but, more than anything, they focus on the important practice of investigating and subsequently re-visioning history. The works make several references to actual events and historical figures, at once displaying the artist’s own knowledge of art and cultural history, and pointing out art’s complicity in constructing specific historical narratives.
This installation of works by Shonibare offers a striking counterpoint to the Museum’s temporary exhibition of 15th century tapestries, The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries, on view in the lower galleries. The latter features stunning textiles that served as legitimations of colonial ambitions during the Age of Discovery. Contrasting Shonibare’s works with the Pastrana Tapestries allows the Museum to use art as the means to instigate dialogue about the legacy of colonialism and the importance of historical investigation.