yinka shonibare, MBE's new commission for the exterior of the royal opera house, london

19 June 2012
The Royal Opera House has commissioned artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE to create a unique artwork to be displayed on the exterior of the Royal Opera House, overlooking Russell Street in Covent Garden. This new work, part of London 2012 Festival, will be unveiled in June 2012 and will remain in place for five years.

The Royal Opera House has had a long-term ambition to commission a high quality public work of art to decorate the façade of the building since the 1990s. The commission of Yinka Shonibare MBE to create this new work is the realisation of that ambition.

The sculpture, featuring a life-sized ballerina encased within a giant ‘snow globe' is inspired by a photograph of the legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn, prima ballerina assoluta of The Royal Ballet. The dancer will rotate slowly and appear to encapsulate a moment stolen from the stage of the Royal Opera House. Typical of some of Shonibare's previous work, the dancer will have a replica Victorian world globe as her head reflecting the international work of the Royal Opera House and emphasizing the universality of ballet as an art form.

The ballerina figure is modelled on Melissa Hamilton, Soloist with The Royal Ballet, and is being made using traditional sculptural methods and will then be cast in fibreglass. The dancer will wear a tutu made of fabrics synonymous with Shonibare's work and implying an African identity. It will be made by the Royal Opera House Costume Department. The fabrics, Indonesian in influence and originally manufactured by the Dutch for sale in the Indonesian market, have become a symbol of African identity having eventually been sold to the colonies in West Africa. The ballerina's shoes will also be decorated in this fabric. The snow globe will be made using a synthetic glass, similar to that used for Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle displayed until recently on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Nick Ware, Senior Lighting Manager at the Royal Opera House will design the artwork's lighting.

The use of ballet is prevalent in Shonibare's work. Previously he has used dance to explore cultural and gender ambiguities as well as referencing political debates on the nature of power. His film Odile and Odette (2005) was made in collaboration with ROH2 at the Royal Opera House and featured dancers from The Royal Ballet and Ballet Black. On this new work Shonibare comments:

"This piece is about bringing the childhood sense of magic and wonder to the façade of the Royal Opera House in a very grown up piece of public sculpture that can be enjoyed by all. It's like a life size fairytale ballerina jewellery box that will spin".

Deborah Bull, Creative Director of the Royal Opera House said:

"I'm delighted that this long term ambition to create a piece of public art for the façade of the Royal Opera House is finally achieved with the installation of Yinka Shonibare MBE's Globe Head Ballerina. Over the last decade we've worked hard to ensure as many people as possible can experience the world class opera and dance which takes place on our stages. Globe Head Ballerina takes this one stage further by bringing the work that goes on inside the building to its exterior in a way that is playful and, at the same time, appropriately theatrical for an area of London renowned for performance. Inspired by the great Margot Fonteyn and based on one of today's aspiring stars Melissa Hamilton, our spinning ballerina celebrates the extraordinary talents of the international artists who perform on our stage and will, I hope give passers-by a moment to pause and a reason to smile".

Yinka Shonibare MBE will curate Deloitte Ignite 2012 at the Royal Opera House from Friday 31 August - Sunday 2 September.

For further information please contact:

Sara Parsons
Press Officer, ROH2 and Education, Royal Opera House
Tel: 020 7212 9504
Sara.parsons@roh.org.uk

Elizabeth Bell
Head of Corporate Communications, Royal Opera House
Tel: 020 7212 9717
Elizabeth.bell@roh.org.uk

James Green
Stephen Friedman
Tel: 020 7494 1434
james@stephenfriedman.com