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Artist Yinka Shonibare has brought Winston Churchill down to size

Yinka Shonibare CBE wears that title, pointedly, as part of his name. The artist declares himself a Commander of the British Empire in full knowledge of the historical legacy and contemporary friction the title carries.

Over a 40-year career, Shonibare has explored the impact of imperialism and millennia-long histories of cultural exchange. As a critical thinker his tendency is more “yes, and” than “no”. He is interested in leading conversations forward rather than shutting them down. Will he accept an honour in the name of the British Empire? Yes, and he’ll invite us to think a beat about all that implies.

Now in his early sixties, Shonibare is an artist of international acclaim. His commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square – Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010) – was so popular that it has been given a permanent home in Greenwich. Thanks to his use of colourful Dutch wax cloth – a cotton textile based on Indonesian batik, long manufactured in the Netherlands and sold in West Africa – his work is highly recognisable. He has reached that level of artworld fame where his work is taught to primary school children.

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