The Guardian

Interview with Yinka Shonibare: African Spirits of Modernism is at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, until 31 July.

Photographer credit, image courtesy: Installation view of ‘Yinka Shonibare CBE RA: African Spirits of Modernism’, Stephen Friedman Gallery (2021). Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

Picasso was so enthralled by African art, he used it to start a revolution. But did it give rise to a fantasy of Africa that still endures? British-Nigerian artist Shonibare tells us why he’s revisiting that seismic moment.

In 1998, in a hilarious work called Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Yinka Shonibare inserted himself, impeccably attired, into the sitting rooms, drawing rooms, billiards rooms and bedrooms of high society Victorian Britain, invariably causing a sensation in each of the perfectly mocked-up photographs. The work mimics William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, but instead of ending up in Bedlam, like Hogarth’s protagonist, Shonibare the Dandy triumphs over white society at everything from financial dealing to fine conversation. It all climaxes with him having a great time in a brothel with no apparent guilt or punishment. Well, it was the 1990s – and Shonibare was a bona fide Young British Artist. Also, he says with a laugh, “Hogarth was the first YBA.”.....

But now the British-Nigerian artist is turning his attention to the birth of modern art in Picasso’s Paris. Not many artists come away from an encounter with Pablo looking good. A 2012 Tate exhibition about the Spaniard and modern British art left Henry Moore and Francis Bacon looking very small indeed. But Shonibare engages with the old Minotaur in a relaxed, funny yet profoundly insightful way......

Among many other things, Shonibare reveals the sheer scale of Picasso’s collection of African masks. This is acutely apposite, at a time when museums are being hit with demands to return “cultural property” to wherever it originated. But Shonibare’s aim is not to attack Picasso. “When I looked deeper, I saw Picasso was genuinely fascinated by the spiritual power of these objects – it wasn’t just decoration. He went for sculptures that were frightening: half-animal, half-human.”

Read the full article here 

Photographer credit, image courtesy: Installation view of ‘Yinka Shonibare CBE RA: African Spirits of Modernism’, Stephen Friedman Gallery (2021). Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

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