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Yinka Shonibare CBE’s timely solo exhibition at the Serpentine makes the invisible visible

The enormity of Yinka Shonibare CBE’s work cannot be overstated. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in both 2004 and 2008. He has exhibited across the globe with works held in the permanent collections of the Tate, the V&A, MoMA and the Smithsonian Institute. He was made CBE in 2019 and in 2022, the artist launched Guest Artists Space (G. A. S.) Foundation, a Lagos-based non-profit that fosters cultural exchange through residencies, public programmes and exhibition opportunities. His works are currently on view as part of the Nigerian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. And now, after 32 years, the artist returns with a new solo show at the Serpentine Gallery, the very site of his debut in 1992.

Entitled ‘Suspended State’, the exhibition chimes so well with this year’s Venice Biennale’s theme, ‘Foreigners Everywhere’, that you could almost read the show as an extension of it. “Suspended States addresses the suspension of boundaries, whether psychological, physical, or geographical — all boundaries of nationhood are in a state of suspense,” Shonibare says. “This is an exhibition in which Western iconography is reimagined and interrogated, at a moment in history when Nationalism, protectionism and hostility towards foreigners is on the rise.”

Entering the space, you’re immediately immersed in Shonibare’s introspective world. At the heart of the first room stands The Wind Sculpture in Bronze IV, a tall billowing cloth rendered in bronze with a sense of motion that’s at once gentle and resolute. Its primary purpose? To make the invisible visible. The abstract bronze sculpture is meticulously hand painted with Dutch wax patterns in vibrant hues of turquoise, yellow and orange. It’s a continuation of the dialogue from many of his works, especially Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. Commissioned for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2010, it saw Horatio Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory recreated in a 1:30 ratio and with the sails replaced by Dutch wax-printed cotton. The connection between the two lies in the significance of the trade winds that carried this ship and these fabrics across continents. It’s a force that’s both metaphorical and physical, has shaped the experiences of the diaspora and enslaved peoples throughout history.

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