yinka shonibare, MBE 'the future of the past' at caam, las palmas de gran canaria, spain

28 October 2011
Yinka Shonibare, MBE (London, 1962) works across different media - painting, sculpture, photography and moving image - in his ongoing exploration of complex ideas ranging from contemporary African identity and the legacy of European colonialism today, to the conflicts rising from the recent history of Western democracies. Widely acclaimed in the contemporary art world, Shonibare's work is charged with visual symbols. From the sumptuous colourful patterns of the "African fabrics" he uses in most of his works, to his complex tableaux with headless mannequins dressed in these same fabrics, Shonibare's works address issues grounded in history, art, literature, and cultural, social, financial and political references that echo in the present and into the future.

This exhibition features recent works by Shonibare MBE alongside some samples of previous creations plus a new installation expressly created for this, his first solo exhibition in Spain. Through the conjunction of and the cross between Willy Loman, the legendary anti-hero of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Dante's Inferno, the photographic recreation of Gustave Doré's etchings of Dante's work and references to the US multinationals Chrysler, General Motors and Ford, the British-Nigerian artist suggests, on one side, the illusory nature of the "American dream" and, on the other, the parallel between Miller's exploration of greed and the human condition in the 20th century and our present situation, projecting it as its perverse, ill-fated legacy.

Besides, Shonibare evokes Oscar Wilde to underscore the complexity and confusion surrounding cultural identity in the monstrous reflection defining our purportedly rationalist era. Shifting between fiction and reality, Shonibare's Dorian Gray (2001) - a photographic series alluding to Oscar Wilde's legendary creation of the same name -again highlights, and from varying forms of duality, that things are not what they seem. In the case of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Wilde's only novel tells us the story of an attractive young man who barters his soul in exchange for eternal youth, while a hidden portrait captures and suffers the ravages of age and his growing moral corruption. The work by Wilde was turned into a film in 1945, and it was precisely from the frames of that movie that Shonibare drew inspiration to create his own photographic adaptation, underlining in his work the subject matter of duality. And other duality, this time reverted, is patent in the depiction of Shonibare as Dorian Gray, who in Wilde's novel was a 19th century white gentleman. This photographic series is the only one, together with his series Diary of a Victorian Dandy (1998), where the African patterns are not present and both of them are examples in which the artist appears as the protagonist.

The exhibition also contains the film Un Ballo in Maschera (2004), which borrows its title from an opera by Verdi inspired by the assassination of King Gustavo III of Sweden at a masked ball in Stockholm, exploring intersections between frivolity and excess of power, revealing "history" as a construct subject to manipu- lation. And the first group of collages made by Shonibare uncovers, almost as a visual inner monologue, a conflict between the realms of present-day economy and aesthetics, and Shonibare's personal world. Finally, Cannonball Heaven (2011), a new production made expressly for this show, depicting what the artist understands as the futility of war, rounds off this selection which, as a whole, transcends space and time to dissect, with humour and colour, and from the perspective of a historical past, the contemporary complexity of the issues and conditions that our globalising future has in store for us.

The exhibition has toured from Alcala 31, Madrid.