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Yinka Shonibare, Mobility

James Cohan Gallery
533 West 26th Street, 212-714-9500
October 1 - October 29, 2005
Reception: Saturday, October 1, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

The exhibition consists of two large works and several smaller ones. In Reverend on Ice, one room of the gallery is turned into an ice-skating rink on which glides a headless figure dressed in African cloth. The work transforms a famous painting – Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (1795), by Sir Henry Raeburn – into a three-dimensional fantasia. The Raeburn painting, which hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland, presents a man poised between rectitude and release, with the pious reverend of the title extending his leg in a balletic swoop. Shonibare was attracted to the elegance of the image, as well as to its incongruity, and used it for the basis for a piece that likewise conflates disparate worlds: European and African, sacred and joyously profane.

In the show’s largest work, Shonibare also confronts historical symbols of colonialism in a playful, humorous, and surreal way. Three Victorian characters – a child, a lady, and a gentleman – are presented as headless figures riding antique unicycles. Their clothing combines aspects of nineteenth-century high style and bright African textiles.

Yinka Shonibare (b. 1962) is a painter, photographer, and installation artist. His art is influenced by both the cultures of Nigeria, where he grew up, and England, where he studied and now lives. He has exhibited widely throughout the world, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2004.

Shonibare’s paintings and sculptural installations make extensive use of figures draped in dyed batik-style fabrics. The figures are set into tableaux that recall aristocratic pursuits of another era: theirs is a world of carriage rides and ladies on swings. The complexities of nationality and identity, of history and ethnicity, form the intellectual and aesthetic arena in which the artist works. His installations engage with traditions of Western art history and social discourse, yet they do so in a way that is witty and cunning, sensuous and poetic.
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