Goodman Gallery presents Restitution of the Mind and Soul by Yinka Shonibare CBE RA. This exhibition of new quilts, masks and sculptures marks Shonibare’s first solo exhibition with the gallery in Cape Town and his second exhibition with Goodman Gallery since bringing the iconic African Library to Johannesburg in 2018, which also marked the artist’s first show on the African Continent for fifteen years.
The premise for Shonibare’s exhibition four years ago, titled Ruins Decorated, rested on his belief that culture has evolved out of a process described by the artist as a “mongrelisation”. Restitution of the Mind and Soul takes Shonibare’s enduring interest in the legacy of African aesthetics to the next level, responding to the fact that “the African contribution to modernism has never really been celebrated in the way it ought to be” (Shonibare).
For this latest body of work, Shonibare considers how African aesthetics have shaped western modernist expression. The exhibition directly responds to Picasso’s collection of African artefacts, juxtaposing icons of classical European antiquity with these artefacts. Using Picasso’s collection as a starting point, these new works are a response to the widely acknowledged influence that African imagery had on major twentieth century artists and on entire western art movements, such as Cubism, Dada and Surrealism.
A series of vibrantly coloured, hand-stitched quilts illustrate African artefacts, which formed part of the private collections of influential modernist artists such as Matisse and Derain. Classical European sculptures of goddesses drawn from Greek and Roman mythology are hand-painted with Shonibare’s signature Dutch wax batik patterns, their heads replaced with replicas of African masks complimentary to the figure’s associated myths. Each mask has been drawn from a prominent twentieth century artist’s collection.
A further set of intricate, hand-painted masks appear alongside a slide projection, titled Paris á Noir II (2022), which presents historical archive material that conveys the fashion of African art and cultures in 1920-30s Paris. The work exposes the conflicted relationships between ‘western’ and ‘tribal’, appropriation and admiration. According to Shonibare, “Paris of the early 20th century was hungry for the energy and culture of African communities, informing the nightlife, intellectual and literary scene, art, dance design and politics. It became a European centre for Black culture, fluctuating between facilitating black empowerment and reinforcing the fetishisation of African cultures by the mostly white bourgeois elite.”
A brief look at the impact of African aesthetics on key western artists from this era shows the pervasive nature of this influence. Georges Braque, André Derain and Amedeo Modigliani all collected artefacts from the African continent. Matisse collected African masks and sculptures extensively, including a Congolese Vili figure purchased at a Curio shop. He travelled to Algeria in 1906, inspiring his 1907 painting Blue Nude and where he studied African art. His studio was adorned with Kuba cloth from what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo and incorporated the cloth’s patterns into his work. In reference to these cloths, Matisse remarked: “I never tire of looking at them [...] and waiting for something to come to me from the mystery of their instinctive geometry”.
Matisse is also reported to have brought an African mask to one of Gertrude Stein’s famous salons, which marked Picasso’s first “up-close” encounter.
Derain visited ethnographic collections in Paris and London and had African masks and sculptures in his personal collection. Man Ray’s introduction to African art was at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in New York for a show of African sculpture called Statuary in Wood by African Savages (1914). The Dada performer and poet, Tristan Tzara was a committed collector of African and Oceanic art and helped to organise the exhibition Art African et Art Océanien (1930) at Théatre Pigalle in Paris, which consisted of 425 objects from Africa and Oceania. Picasso, Derain, Braque, Joan Miró, Paul Guillaume and Félix Fénéon all lent objects for the exhibition.
Restitution of the Mind and Soul addresses this pervasive, one-sided cultural appropriation of African artefacts by subjecting European aesthetics to processes of appropriation that results in a multi-layered cross-cultural hybridity: “I want to challenge notions of cultural authenticity, by creating a composite ideology, ‘a third myth’, exploring appropriation, cultural identity, and the ability to transform beyond what is expected and therefore compels us to contemplate our world differently” - Shonibare.
Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA (b. London, UK, 1962) moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to the UK to study Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art, London and Goldsmiths College, London, where he received his Masters in Fine Art.
He has become known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the context of globalization. Through his interdisciplinary practice, Shonibare’s work examines race, class and the construction of cultural identity through a political commentary of the interrelationship between Africa and Europe, and their respective economic and political histories. Shonibare uses citations of Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities.
In 2002, he was commissioned to create one of his most recognised installations, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation for Documenta XI. In 2004, he was nominated for the Turner Prize and in 2008, his mid-career survey began at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; touring to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. In 2010, his first public art commission Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle was displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, and was acquired by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
In 2013, he was elected as a Royal Academician and in 2017, Wind Sculpture VI was featured in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of the Arts, London as part of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Shonibare was also commissioned by the Yale Center for British Art to create Mrs Pinckney and the Emancipated Birds of South Carolina for inclusion in ’Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World’, which went on display at Kensington Palace, London in 2017.
His 2018 commission with the Public Art Fund, Wind Sculpture (SG) I, is now on permanent display at Davidson College, North Carolina. He was awarded the honour of ‘Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List.
In 2021 Shonibare had a banner year with a large scale retrospective of his work, Yinka Shonibare CBE: End of Empire hosted at the Museum der Moderne – Salzburg and as the curator for the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Show in London.
His work is included in notable museum collections including Tate, London; the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago among others.