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yinka shonibare mbe
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Flowered Up.It’s hard to make contemporary art without alienating someone. It’s an elitist art world - arguably the market likes it that way. In contrast, Yinka Shonibare, MBE, makes art that’s refreshingly accessible. Shonibare is one of the most articulate artists knocking around these days; ask him one question and a stream of explanations and thoughts pours out. His latest exhibition, Flower Time, shares that same fluent accessibility. He tackles race, politics and history with humour and dexterity.
Flower Time I and How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Gentlemen) (both detai).
The show’s title toys with the idea of hippie flower power. There is a sculptural vase of flowers made out of Shonibare’s signature African printed fabrics; the vibrant wall painting that opens the show, Black Gold 1, echoes abstract psychedelic patterns; a ‘flower cloud’ is in fact a beautiful, poetic nuclear cloud.
However, there’s nothing retro and dated about his approach. Underlying the work is a brilliant nod at contemporary politics from the very modern, global obsession with oil – also known as black gold - to racial politics. The brilliant headless duo of two regency gentlemen with guns facing each other, How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Gentlemen), works on so many levels. Here the pointlessness of the Iraq War mixes with the history of slavery and colonialism.
Flower Cloud II and Odile and Odette (both detail).
Not every piece is as successful, Shonibare trying his hand at everything from painting to sculpture to video work. The main film piece at the back of the gallery, Odile and Odette, is a black and white film of ballet dancers mirroring each others movements. The ballerinas use characters in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to explore modern assumptions of what or who is good or evil. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t quite hit the viewer in the same way as the sculptures. It is humour that makes this artist’s work so mesmerising: nothing’s quite as powerful as a smile.
Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Flower Time is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, until 13 January 07.
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