Visualizing identity: The Art of Black Self-Expression - Yinka Shonibare

Exploring how Black artists, through various forms of visual art, use their work as a means of expressing and examining their identities, experiences and perspectives

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Celebrated for his remarkable creations but also for the thought-provoking narratives that underpin his work, Yinka Shonibare, is a name that resonates in the world of contemporary art.

Nigerian Heritage, London Born

Yinka Shonibare was born in 1962 in London, and the city would play a significant role in shaping his artistic identity in addition to his Nigerian heritage. Shonibare's dual cultural background has been instrumental in forging his unique perspective, which explores the complexities of identity, colonialism, and globalization.

Shonibare studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art and later at Goldsmiths College, where he honed his conceptual artistic skills. This laid the groundwork for his future exploration of themes related to post-colonialism, multiculturalism, and identity in a globalized world.

Signature Style

One of the defining features of Shonibare's work is his use of Dutch wax batik fabric, a colourful and intricately patterned material that is ubiquitous in West Africa. He employs this fabric to craft vibrant costumes for his sculptures, a practice that brilliantly contrasts the traditional with the contemporary. These costumes are worn by headless mannequins, which serve as a metaphor for the lack of a singular identity in our globalised world.

Shonibare's use of Victorian-era silhouettes adds another layer of complexity to his work. These silhouettes, reminiscent of the British colonial period, evoke feelings of nostalgia and displacement. The juxtaposition of Victorian aesthetics with African fabrics challenges viewers to reconsider preconceived notions of culture and identity.

Shonibare's art is far from superficial; it delves deep into the narratives of history, globalization, and identity. His Diary of a Victorian Dandy series is a prime example of his narrative prowess. In this series, he explores the life of an imaginary aristocrat, complete with a silk costume made from his signature batik fabric. Shonibare invites viewers to ponder the implications of this fictional figure's dual identity and the complexities it represents.


Yinka Shonibare's influence extends well beyond the art world. His work has become a source of contemplation for academics, educators, and cultural critics worldwide. His ability to bridge the gap between past and present, East and West, tradition and modernity, offers a rich vein of material for the study of post-colonialism and globalization.

Shonibare's commitment to education and advocacy is an essential aspect of his legacy. He has supported various art initiatives and has been an advocate for greater diversity and inclusion within the art world. His commitment to these causes demonstrates how an artist can be a catalyst for positive change, both within and outside the art community.

Yinka Shonibare is a brilliant artist whose work challenges conventional notions of identity, culture, and colonial history. His use of batik fabric and Victorian silhouettes provides a visually striking representation of the complex interplay between tradition and modernity. His narratives provoke deep contemplation and contribute significantly to the academic discourse on post-colonialism and globalization. His legacy is not only artistic but also socio-cultural, as he continues to inspire and advocate for a more inclusive and diverse world.

Celebrating Black History