Friday, October 8, 2010

Designer of the Month: Yinka Shonibare, MBE

For October's Designer of the Month, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the work of renowned British-Born Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE (1962- ). And for all of you wondering about the MBE, it stands for Member of the "Most Excellent Order of the British Empire," a title that Shonibare won in 2005, and which he has since added to his professional name.[1] Naturally for Shonibare, choosing to incorporate this honorific into his name is not just an acknowledgment of the award, but also an ironic nod to the ambiguities and contradictions of the British Empire and its legacy of colonialism and class.[2] As you can probably already tell, Shonibare loves this sort of critical excavation and examination of ideas about race, class, colonialism, and globalization, all of which he focuses on in his artwork, which ranges from painting and sculpture to photography and filmmaking.[3] 
Yinka Shonibare, MBE. Courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Shonibare is particularly well-known for the richly patterned Dutch wax fabrics that he uses throughout his work, in a wide range of applications.  Inspired by Indonesian batiks, produced in the Netherlands and Manchester, and marketed to West African buyers during the 19th century, these fabrics have since come to be commonly described as "African-print," although the truth of the matter is clearly far more complicated.[4] As Shonibare explains about his decision to focus on these fabrics in particular, and especially why he purchases them in London: "When you realize they are designed and produced by people in Dutch and English factories, then that completely destroys the methodology of this seductive African thing. Therefore it is important I don't go to Africa to buy them so that all African exotic implications remain fake. And I actually like that fakeness."[5]
 Courtesy of Yinka Shonibare, MBE.

While, technically, Shonibare can be considered more of an artist than a designer, his art sufficiently speaks to and utilizes design in such a way that I think you all will, regardless of descriptive titles, enjoy this month's discussion. Next week we'll take a closer look at Shonibare's sculptures, week 3 will focus on his painting and photography, and we'll finish off with film in week 4.

[1] Yinka Shonibare, MBE online, "Biography,", (accessed October 7, 2010).

[2] PBS online, "Art21: Yinka Shonibare, MBE,", (accessed October 7, 2010).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rachel Kent, "Time and Transformation in the Art of Yinka Shonibare MBE," Yinka Shonibare MBE, (New York: Prestel Verlag, 2008), 12.

[5] Ibid., 12.

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