Interview: Yinka Shonibare and the point of art

Turner Prize-nominated artist Yinka Shonibare MBE talks to Artimage about the point of art, being 'the rebel within' the institution and his exciting new project in Lagos.

Interview: Yinka Shonibare and the point of art

What first inspired you to become an artist?

I am not entirely sure but as a child I was always fascinated by the work of artists. As a child in Nigeria, I attended children's art workshops in the museum in Lagos.

Your work is bound with beauty and darkness, exploring issues of colonialism, racism and cultural identity with a gentleness and humour. How do you command this kind of balance?

The point of art is to move beyond simplistic binaries and to explore the complexities of the world, the grey areas. Art must never simply be the illustration of a problem; it has to transcend it.

5545 3508

Batik fabric features in many of your works and installations. With its interesting history, what makes you gravitate towards it and what does it signify?

Batik is Indonesian-inspired fabric which was subsequently factory-produced by the Dutch and then traded in Africa. I use this fabric to explore the complex relationship between Africa and Europe, particularly the complexities of contemporary hyphenated identities.

The art history canon, as it stands, is largely representative of Western contributions and visions of art. Your curated exhibition, Talisman in the Age of Difference, however, features artists who make provocative, political works that actively do not conform to this. Do you think increased representation of works such as these could lead to a more inclusive art history canon?

Society is changing and becoming more diverse, it is increasingly important that diversity is reflected in culture, particularly in the art canon. It is therefore imperative that all of our educational institutions acknowledge this and adjust the curriculum accordingly.

20371 3508

Who or what most inspires you?

I am mostly inspired by history, colour and the excitement of the unknown.

You describe yourself as ‘The rebel within’ the institution. With a Turner Prize nomination, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth and having been awarded as an MBE and a Royal Academician, what else would you like to take on?

I am in the process of building an international artist's residency space in Lagos Nigeria, I look forward to setting this up with great excitement!

25686 3508

Can you tell us a bit about your creation, Guest Projects?

Guest Projects is an interdisciplinary artists experimental space that I have supported for ten years in my studio in East London. It is a space where artists can try out new ideas. Artists are provided with a space for one month but they must fund, market and invigilate their own shows. It has been a very empowering way to run a space without revenue funding. The space I want to open in Lagos, Nigeria is an extension of what Guest Projects has been doing for ten years, with the exception of the added residential element. This time I will be seeking the support of other institutions to support artists to do the residency.

What upcoming projects are working on?

I am working towards a show at Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and Front Triennial in Cleveland and numerous other group shows.

20326 3508

What made you decide to join Artimage, and what have been the greatest benefits?

I joined Artimage for its excellent image management facilities as I am too busy to manage this side of my career effectively.

Browse more Yinka Shonibare artworks below, or view our full collection here.

All of Yinka Shonibare's images are available for fast-track licensing.

20397 3508
Venus de Milo (after Alexandros), 2016 (detail)

17142 3508
End of Empire, 2016

24940 3508

Butterfly Kid (Girl) IV, 2017


20376 3508
The Swing Headless, 2016

5310 3508
The Crowning, 2007 (detail) 

15888 3508
Balloon Man, 2015

How to license an image

To request an image, log in or register for an account.

Need help? Contact our team for expert guidance on finding the right image for your project. Email artimage@dacs.org.uk or call +44 (0) 20 7780 7550. 

Related pages


Images: Self-Portrait (after Warhol) 3, 2013 
© Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Last Supper (after Leonardo), 2013 (detail) © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Photo: Stephen White; ...and the wall fell away, 2016 (detail) © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Photo: Mark Blower; The British Library, Turner Contemporary, 2016 Co-commissioned by HOUSE 2014 and Brighton Festival © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Photo: Stephen White; Bronze (Purple Fabric), 2016 © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Photo: Mark Blower; Venus de Milo (after Alexandros), 2016 (detail) © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Photo: Mark Blower; End of Empire, 2016 © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Turner Contemporary, Margate. Photo: Stephen White; Butterfly Kid (Girl) IV, 2017 © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg. Photo: Stephen White; The Swing Headless, 2016 © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy James Cohan Gallery. Photo: Stephen White; The Crowning, 2007 (detail) © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Commissioned by Musée du Quai Branly for the exhibition ‘Jardin d’Amour’ 2007; Balloon Man, 2015 © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Image courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Photo: Stephen White.