Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Suspended States’ exhibition challenges colonial narratives

Yinka Shonibare has sparked a conversation about the preservation and reimagining of historic colonial statues with his latest solo exhibition, “Suspended States,” now on display at London’s Serpentine Gallery until September 1, 2024, per euronews.com.

In a bold artistic endeavour, Shonibare breathes new life into familiar figures from Britain’s imperialist past, including Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria and Herbert Kitchener. Rather than advocating for the removal of these contentious statues, British artist chooses to reinterpret them, infusing traditional forms with vibrant hand-painted Batik patterns inspired by his Nigerian heritage.

The exhibition serves as a platform for critical reflection and dialogue, challenging viewers to reconsider the legacies of historical figures linked to slavery, colonialism and racial oppression. Shonibare believes that preserving history is crucial, likening the destruction of statues to burning books one disagrees with, advocating instead for improvement and beautification.

The sculptures at Serpentine South in London.                          Frank Augstein/AP

Drawing from his own childhood experiences in Nigeria, Shonibare explores the complex colonial relationships between Africa and Europe, emphasising the nuanced nature of historical figures. “The War Library,” a poignant installation within the exhibition, houses over 5,000 books chronicling conflicts across continents, symbolising the repetitive nature of human history and the importance of memory.

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter a somber room featuring models of structures that have provided shelter for refugees and displaced people, serving as a reminder of our collective responsibility towards those in need.

Through “Suspended States,” Shonibare invites audiences to navigate the complexities of history, urging empathy, understanding and a reevaluation of our relationship with the past.

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