Dorian Gray, Shonibare's latest photographic project, consists of twelve large-scale photographs and is based the 1945 screen adaptation of Oscar Wildes's The Picture of Dorian Gray directed by Albert Lewin. By assuming the role of Dorian Gray himself, Shonibare extends his preoccupation with the dandy that first manifested itself in his previous work, Diary of a Victorian Dandy (1998). Here Shonibare allies himself with the ‘outsider' tradition of the dandy embodied by Oscar Wilde. An Irishman who moved to England, Wilde used his flamboyance, wit, art and caricature to paradoxically penetrate an establishment that was otherwise closed to him.
If it were only the other way!
If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old!
For that - for that- I would give everything! [The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (1891)]
Spellbound before his own painted portrait, Dorian Gray utters a fateful wish. In exchange for eternal youth, he surrenders his soul to the malign influence of his friend Lord Henry Wotton. Encouraged by Wotton's philosophy of ‘the ideal of self-development' to pursue self-gratification over goodness and subjugate reality for art, Gray falls in love with and seduces Cybil Vane. He then rejects her and drives her to suicide. For years, the portrait remains hidden but the impassive Gray discovers that the sins and corruption of his soul deform the portrait. In an attempt to thwart reality, Gray murders the painter of his portrait, Basil Hallward. Finally, haunted by a remorse that disturbs his selfish pursuits, Gray destroys the painting with a knife in order to kill his conscience but in so doing places the knife in his own heart. Gray represents the dark side of dandyism - a foray into narcissism, human degeneracy, murder, guilt, sin and mortality.
For Old Burlington Street, Shonibare has created a new sculptural installation based on Jean- Honoré Fragonard's painting of The Swing. The mannequin's beautiful hand-tailored dress is made of brightly coloured, boldly patterned and industrially produced batik textiles purchased locally in Brixton market. These African fabrics have their own complex history born out of nineteenth-century economic practices. The designs are traditionally Indonesian but the materials, which are eventually shipped to West Africa, are printed in Holland and in Britain to support these Western economies. Shonibare's work addresses post-colonial identity in a particularly complex British context, but also investigates excess, seduction, desire and complicity.
In the UK, Yinka Shonibare has had several solo exhibitions including Camden Arts Centre, (2000) and Dressing Down at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham (1999) which then toured around the country. In 1998 he completed a site-specific project on the London Underground entitled Diary of a Victorian Dandy. Shonibare has also participated in numerous group exhibitions including The Short Century, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2001); Exchange, Victorian & Albert Museum, London (2001); Age of Influence: Reflections in the Mirror of American Culture, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2000); New British Art 2000: Intelligence, Tate Britain, London (2000); Heaven, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany (1999); Mirror's Edge, BildMuseet, Umea, Sweden (1999) and Sensation, Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997). In 2001, Shonibare will have solo exhibitions at Camouflage, Johannesburg in May, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh in June, and at The British School in Rome in November.