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Yinka Shonibare: Prospero’s Monsters

Solo show at James Cohan Gallery. 2008
Date: 17 April, 2008 until 17 May, 2008
Organiser: James Cohan Gallery

Solo exhibition by Yinka Shonibare, MBE, held at James Cohan Gallery, New York, April 17 - May 17, 2008.

From the exhibition press release: “Shonibare’s three-part installation of sculpture and photography revisits the collision between irrational mysticism and logical reason that occurred in society during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment period. The artist’s work often concerns itself with the history of colonization and its ensuing struggles. Here, the artist intimates that western democracy’s current conquests may similarly invoke physical or psychological conflict.

The installation opens with a room-sized, battered frigate, which dangerously lists as if it is about to sink. Set against the photographic backdrop of the same model ship perilously afloat in a stormy sea, Shonibare’s sculpture appears as both a dramatic stage set and a two-dimensional image come to life. The work recalls the devastating wreck of the French ship, Medusa, off the coast of Senegal in 1819; the appalling conditions faced by its survivors were imagined by Théodore Géricault’s 1819 painting, The Raft of the Medusa. The artist also alludes to William Shakespeare’s 1611 play, The Tempest, which tells the story of the sorcerer Prospero, who, marooned on an island, conjures a shipwreck to lead his jealous brother, Antonio, to him. The shipwreck, which is never staged in the play, here is given a tangible form. The sculpture introduces the artist’s exhibition and is the visual equivalent of Shakespeare’s “tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning” with which he begins his tale.

The main gallery space features five sculptural vignettes based upon the key thinkers of the Enlightenment: Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Gabrielle Emile Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Immanuel Kant, Antoine Lavoisier and Adam Smith. It is a pivotal arrangement around which the exhibition’s ideas coalesce, as Shonibare uses theater and history to metaphorically discuss the current political climate. Each sculpted figure is depicted with a different disability, which references the artist’s own autobiography— Shonibare was left disabled by a virus contracted in his late teens— but which also employs disability to introduce a different perspective into the liberated world of ideas and reason. Just as the part-man, part-beast character of Caliban in The Tempest was empowered through poetic language but never fully gained his freedom from Prospero, so the Enlightenment thinkers who caused civilization to flourish also burdened its members with the desire to conquer.”

Related items

click to show details of Yinka Shonibare: Art in America cover/review June/July 2008

»  Yinka Shonibare: Art in America cover/review June/July 2008

Review relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of Yinka Shonibare, MBE | Prospero’s Monsters

»  Yinka Shonibare, MBE | Prospero’s Monsters

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2008

People in this exhibition

»  Yinka Shonibare MBE CBE RA

Born, 1962 in London, England

Exhibition venues

»  James Cohan Gallery

New York, New York, USA, United States of America