Yinka Shonibare CBE RA and Leilah Babirye in conversation with Alexandria Smith
We were delighted to host a virtual talk on the occasion of Yinka Shonibare CBE's and Leilah Babirye's solo exhibitions at Stephen Friedman Gallery this summer. Chaired by Alexandria Smith (Head of Painting, Royal College of Art, London), the event looked at how these exhibitions investigate and disrupt notions of African identity.
The conversation took place as part of the inaugural edition of London Gallery Weekend, 4–6 June 2021.
Scroll down to watch a recording of the talk.
Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (British-Nigerian, b. 1962)
Describing himself as a ‘post-colonial hybrid’, Yinka Shonibare CBE creates work that explores issues of race and class through the media of sculpture, painting, photography, film, tapestries and public works. Shonibare’s seventh solo exhibition at the gallery, ‘African Spirits of Modernism’ examines the relationship between African aesthetics and western modernist expression by juxtaposing icons of classical European antiquity with African artefacts from Picasso’s collection. Shonibare explains, “Picasso was interested in appropriating from another culture, and I also appropriate from European ethnic art.” Challenging notions of cultural authenticity, Shonibare suggests that another conversation on diaspora within contemporary society can be had.
Leilah Babirye (Ugandan, b. 1985)
Leilah Babirye’s multidisciplinary practice transforms everyday materials into objects that address issues surrounding identity, sexuality and human rights. The artist fled her native Uganda to New York in 2015 after being publicly outed in a local newspaper. In spring 2018 Babirye was granted asylum with support from the African Services Committee and the NYC Anti-Violence Project. 'Ebika Bya ba Kuchu mu Buganda (Kuchu Clans of Buganda) II' is Babirye's first solo show in the UK and Europe. The exhibition brings together large-scale ceramic works, wooden sculptures, masks and vibrant paintings on paper. The presentation includes the largest ceramic sculpture that the artist has ever created which is presented for the first time in the gallery’s private garden.
Alexandria Smith is a mixed media visual artist based in London and New York. She earned her BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University; MA in Art Education from New York University; and MFA in Fine Arts from Parsons The New School for Design. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Queens Museum/Jerome Foundation Fellowship, a Pollock-Krasner Grant, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, the Virginia A. Myers Fellowship at the University of Iowa and the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. She has been awarded residencies including MacDowell, Bemis, Yaddo and LMCC Process Space.
Smith's recent exhibitions include her first solo museum exhibit, Monuments to an Effigy at the Queens Museum in NYC and a site-specific commission for the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. Alexandria has a forthcoming solo exhibit at the Currier Museum (NH) and group exhibits at Lisson Gallery (London) and Gagosian Gallery (NYC). Alexandria is currently Head of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London.