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Retracing Migration: The Art of Yinka Shonibare MBE

Date and time
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Retracing Migration: The Art of Yinka Shonibare MBE

DHC/ART Education has created a pedagogical tool, Yinka Shonibare MBE: Movements, with the goal of encouraging visitors to develop and elaborate on key concepts examined in the Pièces de résistance by Yinka Shonibare MBE. The concepts include migration, relationship, pleasure and dandy. This week, we present the first essay in the series, which explores the idea of migration.

Context: Migrations

The image of Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Homeless Child 3 (2013) rises up: a child’s body bent under the weight of a heavy burden, a dizzying pile of leather suitcases from another era. And despite all, he resists, walks and grasps the straps with his fingertips. His head is a black Victorian globe of the Earth marked with fine white handwriting. The figure is homeless. Is he a child stigmatised by poverty, wandering the streets? And yet his wax-fabric clothing makes him ambiguous. Although this kind of fabric is typically associated with authentic African identity, it is actually a controversial hybrid; artisanal Indonesian batik designs were appropriated by the country’s Dutch colonisers to produce industrially manufactured copies sold to West Africans. The clothing style is also typical of the Victorian aristocracy. Is he of African origin? A hybrid figure, of indeterminate social class, bearing the burden of colonial history? Which burdens, which histories? From whose point of view?

Homeless Child 3 employs a migratory aesthetic, a rich, open and demanding concept developed by the cultural theorist Mieke Bal. Our culture of globalisation is characterised by movement: people and things travel at great speed, often and everywhere; we defy geographical distance and communicate instantaneously with our mobile devices; we consume cheap clothing made in India, China and South America without much thought. We think that we can transcend borders as we dash about at great speed. The art produced through a migratory aesthetic does not deny this culture of mobility, but it asks, in a critical manner: who profits from these forms of mobility, and who is excluded? Who is restricted in a perpetual situation of "in-betweenness"? [1] Who is forced into exile, to always relocate, and why? Migratory art proposes alternative movements with a strong political and historical awareness, in which identities are relational and not unique or fixed; in which migrating forms are tangible and material, giving rise to an engagement of mindful proximity in those who encounter them; [2] and in which it is possible to imagine a "home" that is at once nomadic, open to the presence of the Other and anchored in multiple roots.

Migratory art has a strong material quality which leads to an "engagement of mindful proximity" (what does art do? what does art do to us?) between the viewer and the work. Drawing on the works by Shonibare in the exhibition Pièces de résistance, describe this kind of engagement from your own point of view.

The concept migratory aesthetic must constantly be re-appropriated. Describe your own understanding of the term by entering into dialogue with some of the works in the exhibition Pièces de résistance.

DHC/ART Education

[1] Sam Durrant and Catherine M. Lord, introduction to Essays in Migratory Aesthetics: Cultural Practices between Migration and Art, ed. Sam Durrant and Catherine M. Lord, (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007), 11-20.
[2] Mieke Bal and Miguel Á. Hernández-Navarro, introduction to Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture: Conflict, Resistance and Agency, ed. Mieke Bal and Miguel Á. Hérnandez-Navarro, (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2011), 9-20.

Photo: Yinka Shonibare MBE, Homeless Child 3, 2013. Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, fibreglass, globe head, steel base plate, leather suitcases. © Yinka Shonibare MBE / image licensed by SODRAC / Photo: Stephen White / Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai.

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