yinka shonibare: who knows tomorrow

4 June 2010
During the summer, five internationally renowned artists of African descent are showing their art on the grounds of the Nationalgalerie Berlin. El Anatsui, Zarina Bhimji, António Ole, Yinka Shonibare, and Pascale Marthine Tayou have been invited to present themselves in the various, architecturally significant buildings in which the Nationalgalerie accommodates its large collections of art from the 19th to 21st century. Their artistic treatment of the different stylistic, political, and social references will conspicuously mark the buildings and their collections during the course of the project. The ensemble of the Nationalgalerie will thus become an itinerary of large-scale, sculptural, and installation-based works, which are for the most part created outdoors in a site-specific manner.

The participating artists prompt a dialog on questions that, in face of the current radical economic, social and political changes, are more relevant that ever. Is uncertainty regarding the future the greatest certainty we now possess? The title of the exhibition, "Who Knows Tomorrow," was inspired by an inscription on a small bus in Africa that was photographed by chance. This maxim of life widespread in Africa now stands for the meaning-generating theme of the exhibition.

The artistic projects reveal the entanglements and connections between Africa and Europe: The contours of the political map of the African continent still existing today were marked out at the "Berlin Africa Conference" in 1884/85, sealing the division of Africa among the Western powers. Hence, the history of Africa's colonization is closely linked to the situation of Berlin at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Fifty years ago, in 1960, seventeen states initially became independent. Both historical events are connected to questions of a national sense of belonging and identity.

Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare MBE is the first-ever contemporary artist to exhibit his work in the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche. Both, the building of the church, built 1824 - 1831 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, as well as the collection of 19th-century sculpture of the Berlin School which is exhibited there, epitomize the idea of an enlightened, virtuous Prussia. Shonibare confronts this with quite a different aspect of Berlin history: the historical fact of the violent expropriation of the African continent's resources and culture, which Prussia supported in the 19th century, as evidenced during the Berlin Congo-Conference of 1884. Through a series of ironic references, his works expose the hypocrisy of the former colonial powers.

The artist presents two works:

The Scramble for Africa, 2003
This installation dramatically re-imagines the Berlin-Congo conference of 1884/5, organized by the then German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, to formalize European colonial claims on African territories. The theatrical, discordant gestures of the artist's signature headless figures insinuate the political intrigues and chicanery responsible for the chaotic intra-European squabble Bismarck sought to settle with the conference.

As usual in the work of Yinka Shonibare MBE, the headless figures are dressed in Victorian clothes of so-called "African" textiles. These fabrics are similar to Indonesian wax-print textiles, and used to be industrially produced in Holland for the African market. Now they mainly come from India and China.

Colonel Tarleton and Mrs Oswald Shooting, 2007
The simultaneous invocation of pleasure and violence is most evident in this sculpture installation, depicting a Victorian couple hunting pheasant. Created after a portrait by the 18th-century British Academician, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the piece shows headless Colonel Tarleton, an avid advocate of slavery, and Mrs Oswald, whose husband Richard Oswald amassed great wealth from slave plantations.