Shonibare's work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and film. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial' hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured ‘African' batik fabric he buys at Brixton market. The fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. In the 1960s the material became a new sign of African identity and independence.
In 2019 Shonibare was awarded the decoration of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire or CBE. Shonibare was a Turner prize nominee in 2004, and was also awarded the decoration of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire or MBE, and he added this title to his professional name. He was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor at Documenta 11 in 2002 to create his most recognised work ‘Gallantry and Criminal Conversation' that launched him on to an international stage. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennale and internationally at leading museums worldwide. In September 2008 his major mid-career survey commenced at the MCA Sydney and then toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He was elected as a Royal Academician by the Royal Academy, London, UK in 2013.
In 2018 Shonibare curated the Arts Council Collection in a touring exhibition ‘Criminal Ornamentation' that opened at Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester in September and is touring the UK in 2019. In June 2018 Shonibare curated ‘Talisman in the Age of Difference' at Stephen Friedman Gallery which brought together the of work of forty-six artists from across Africa and the Diaspora in his most ambitious curatorial show to date. In March 2018 Shonibare unveiled ‘Wind Sculpture (SG) I' in Central Park, New York, which was commissioned by the Public Art Fund. In November 2018 ‘Wind Sculpture (SG) I' was installed in its permanent home at Davidson College, North Carolina.
In 2017 Shonibare presented ‘Wind Sculpture VI' in the courtyard of the Royal Academy and curated a room in the Summer Exhibition. At the 57th Venice Biennale that year in a pavilion dedicated to artists from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds based in the UK, Shonibare took the role of mentor to a young artist.
In September 2016 Shonibare presented his sixth solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery titled ‘...and the wall fell away'. This marked an important transition in his practice, with the complete absence of the Dutch wax batik fabric for which he is known. In autumn 2016 ‘Wind Sculpture VII' was unveiled at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. and ‘Wind Sculpture IV' was shown in Lagos as part of British Council UK/Nigeria 2015-16. As part of the 14-18 NOW programme of World War 1 Centenary Art commissions Turner Contemporary's Sunley Gallery, Margate, UK was transformed by two major works by Shonibare: ‘The British Library' and ‘End of Empire'.
Shonibare's work, ‘Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' was the 2010 Fourth Plinth Commission, and was displayed in Trafalgar Square, London until January 2012. This work was later acquired by the National Maritime Museum, now permanently on display outside the museum's new entrance in Greenwich Park, London. In 2012 the Royal Opera House commissioned ‘Globe Head Ballerina' (2012) and this was on display on the building's exterior overlooking Russell Street in Covent Garden until 2017. A permanent public installation of a ‘Wind Sculpture' at Howick Place, London, UK was unveiled in 2014.
Recent solo and major notable museum exhibitions include: ‘Cowboy Angels', The British Museum, London, UK (2019); ‘The American Library', Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, USA; ‘Creatures of the Mappa Mundi', Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, UK (2019); ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE: Flower Power', Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan (2019); ‘The American Library', Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College, North Carolina, USA (2018); ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE', Fitzrovia Chapel, London, UK (2018); ‘End of Empire', Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, UK (2018); ‘Ruins Decorated', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa (2018); ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE', Busan Museum of Art, South Korea (2018); ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE', Howick Place, London, UK (2018); ‘Paradise Beyond' Gemeentemuseum Helmond, Netherlands (2016 - 2017); ‘Recreating the Pastoral', VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow, Ireland (2016); ‘...and the wall fell away', Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK (2016); ‘End of Empire', Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2016); ‘British Council UK/Nigeria', Lagos, Nigeria (2015-2016); ‘Wilderness into a Garden', Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea (2015); ‘Pièces de Résistance', DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montréal, Québec (2015); ‘Cannonball Paradise', Gerisch Stiftung, Neumünster, Germany (2014); ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE: Egg Fight', Fondation Blachère, Apt, France (2014); ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders', The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA (2014); ‘Selected Works', Gdansk City Art Gallery, Gdansk, Poland; travelled to Wroclaw Contemporary Museum, Wroclaw, Poland; ‘Yinka Shonibare MBE', Royal Museums Greenwich, London, UK (2013); ‘FABRIC-ATION', Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, UK; travelled to GL Strand, Copenhagen, Denmark (2013-2014); ‘FOCUS: Yinka Shonibare, MBE', Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, USA (2013); ‘Imagined as the Truth', San Diego Art Museum, San Diego, USA (2012); ‘Human Culture: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water', Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2011-2010); ‘Looking Up', MBE, Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Monaco (2010) and ‘El Futuro del Pasado', Alcalá 31 Centros de Arte, Madrid, Spain, then toured to Centro de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (2011).
Notable group exhibitions include: ‘Counter Acts', University of the Arts, London, UK (2019-2020); ‘When Home Won't Let You Stay', Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Massachusetts, USA (2019-2020); ‘Bel Canto: Contemporary Artists Explore Opera', SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA (2019-2020); ‘Utopian Imagination', Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New York, USA (2019); ‘Being Human', Wellcome Collection, London, UK (2019); ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers', Somerset House, London, UK (2019); ‘A Cool Breeze', Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic (2019); ‘Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things', The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, UK; travelling to Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University fo East Anglia, Norwich, UK (2019); ‘Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa,' Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, USA (2018); ‘Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art', Cleveland, Ohio, USA (2018); ‘Powerful Tides', The Dockyard, Chatham, UK (2018); ‘Like Life: Sculpture, Colour and the Body', The Met Breuer, New York, USA (2018); ‘The Great Spectacle', RA Summer Exhibition, The Royal Academy of Art, London, UK (2018); ‘An American City: Eleven Cultural Exercises', Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Ohio, USA (2018); ‘The Most Real Thing', New Art Centre, Salisbury, UK (2018); ‘Colonial Stories', GL Holtegaard, Holte, Denmark (2017); ‘From Life, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK (2017); ‘Enlightened Princesses; Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World', Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA toured to Kensington Palace, London, UK (2016 - 2017); ‘Quotidian', Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai, China (2017); ‘Summer Exhibition', Royal Academy, London, UK (2017); ‘Un bal masqué (A masked ball)', Le Chateau de Nyon, Switzerland (2017); ‘Diaspora Pavilion', International Curators Forum Mentoring Programme, Venice Biennale, Italy (2017); ‘Tous, des sang-mêlés', MAC/VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine, France (2017); ‘Public View', Bluecoat, Liverpool, UK (2017); ‘BODY/PLAY/POLITICS', Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan (2016); ‘720', Singapore International Festival of Arts, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore (2016); ‘Summer Exhibition 2016', Royal Academy, London; ‘Making and Unmaking', Curated By Duro Olowu, Camden Arts Centre, London; ‘Arts + Foods. Rituals since 1851', Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy (2015); ‘Chercher le Garçon', MAC/VAL, Paris, France (2015); ‘Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s', Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (2015); ‘Progress', The Foundling Museum, London, UK (2014); ‘Study from the Human Body', Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK (2014); ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists', Frankfurt MMK, Germany; travels to Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, USA; Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Correo Venezia, Venice; Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2014); ‘Education', Vögele Kultur Zentrum, Pfäffikon, Switzerland (2013); ‘Victoriana: The Art of Revival', Guildhall Art Gallery, London, UK (2013); ‘Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa', Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, USA (2013); ‘The Desire for Freedom: Art in Europe since 1945', Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin, Berlin, Germany (2012); ‘Six Yards, Guaranteed Real Dutch Wax Exhibition', Museum of Modern Art, Arnhem, Netherlands (2012); and ‘Migrations: Journeys into British Art', Tate Britain, London, UK (2012).
Shonibare's works are included in prominent collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The British Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, Rome; Arts Council Collection, London; and VandenBroek Foundation, The Netherlands.