Sunday, 18 August 2019

How Shonibare satired Trump in Cowboy Angels

Cowboy Angels by Yinka Shonibare.
 -PIC: ©Reproduced by permission of the artist.
 Despite being globally revered, Nigerian-British artist, Yinka Shonibare CBE was not worthy of attention by The British Museum, in nearly two decades of his successful career. However, something has just changed: British Museum and Shonibare have U.S President, Donald Trump as a prey in common.

From issues such as racial, economic and social injustice, art spaces across the world have had shares of artistic thoughts of Shonibare in nearly two decades. His works of mostly sculptures, dressed in Dutch wax fabrics of African identity, have been shown at museums and galleries across the world. Recognitised, twice, by the Queen of England’s knighthood awards, Shonibare is not done as regards his activism against insensitive leadership, so explains the ongoing exhibition at The British Museum, London, U.K.

Perhaps, for the first time, Shonibare’s art of activism now takes on a living and specific individual - Trump. Opened on July 19, and showing till September 1, 2019, the exhibition titled Cowboy Angels captures Trump’s xenophobic and racial repugnant identity in satirical context.

With the help of the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, the museum acquired the works into its collection ahead of the exhibition. Interestingly, the collection is the British Museum’s first of the artist’s works.

With the on going exhibition, the museum and Shonibare seemed to have joined the British Parliamnend and millions of peopie across the world in denouncing xenophobic and racial rhetorics of public office holders, an example in Trump. It is no longer news that Trump may go down in history as the first American president not to address the House of Common. The British parliament in 2016 barred Trump from addressing the house, breaking an old tradition  between the two countries. Trump's last visit to the UK in June this year met with street protests, said to have been organised by Stop Trump Coalition, involving 75,000 people. Also, then, the British Parliament held on to its 'no Trump address' stance.

“An address to both Houses of Parliament is not an automatic right; it is an earned honour,” Speaker, John Bercow insisted Trump will not be welcomed in 2017. “My view is that he has not earned that honour.”  

Most observers across the world have argued, rightly too, that Trump is the biggest un-presidential personality in modern times. If allowing Trump to address the Bitish Parliament would be rested in the powers of the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, nothing is not likely to change. Johnson, in 2015, described Trump as “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.”

For Shonibare’s kind of themes and subject in artistic creation and identity context, Trump is a delight. In the British Museum exhibition, his works on Trump include a set of five woodcuts with a collage application of the artist’s favourite materials, Dutch wax batik fabric. One of the works -- viewed via soft copies received from The British Museum -- depicts Trump as a cowboy in wings and holding rifle with his finger set on the trigger. In another work, Shonibare satires Trump pointing a hand gun to an imaginary victim of xenophobic attack. Again, the cowboy mentality and costumes adorned the Trump character speaks volume about uncultured personality of a public office holder.

In a statement from British Museum, Shonibare said "Cowboy Angels are a reflection on the Zeitgeist at a time of xenophobia, racism and  the election of Donald Trump in the United States." He described the theme as an  "embodiment of good and evil," but opposed to binary positions of positive and negative acts.

The African contents fabric in the works continue the artist's signature in articulating complex colonial identity. "I have used African textiles in my work to trace the construction of my modern African identity as a residue of colonial relations between Africa and Europe," Shonibare explained. "The fabrics are Indonesian inspired and produced by the Dutch. I also use the 'Financial Times' in  my prints to signify power relations."

Beyond the political satires, the exhibition has a cultural link in modern printmaking between Africa and America. “We’re delighted to have these works join the collection and to be displaying them for the first time," Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum said. "The combination of cloth and references to African masks in the prints has great resonance in a museum with such important African collections." Chapman noted that the cultural mix of African and American imagery in Shonibare's works explains the British Museum’s "long-standing interest in American printmakers like Kara Walker, Willie Cole and Glenn Ligon who regularly explore the often troubled history of African-Americans in the US."

Chapman however clarified that the showing of Cowboy Angel "is pure coincidence, but it does seem particularly relevant to be putting Yinka’s newly acquired works on show at the same time that race and nationhood are in the news in America." He argued that the exhibition is "another example of how important art is in helping us make sense of the world we live in.”

In 2016, Shonibare showed at 14-18 NOW of World War 1 Centenary Art commissions, in the U.K. Co-commissioned by Turner Contemporary and '14-18 NOW', Shonibare’s sculptural work at the show End of Empire explores how alliances forged in the First World War changed British society forever.

He was in Nigeria in 2017 for his Wind Sculpture VI,
a six metre high public space work mounted at Ndubuisi Kanu Park, Ikeja, Lagos, and shown till January 2017.

In 2013, two editions of the work were exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, England, and also at Cannonball Paradise, Gerisch Stiftung, Neumunster, Germany in 2014.
 -Tajudeen Sowole.



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