Pearl Lam Galleries present an exhibition of work by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE. In contrast with the artist’s previous work, which addressed universal political concerns, this new series returns to the essence of the imagination, an exploration of the subjective and the subconscious that is inspired by surrealism. For the first time, the artist will utilise his childhood memories in Nigeria, dividing the exhibition into two parts: new surrealist sculptures along with several screen prints.
Shonibare draws on surrealism as both an artistic and political movement aimed at the liberation of the human being from the constraints of capitalism, the state, and the cultural forces that limit the reign of the imagination. The first part of the exhibition comprises two new fantastical sculptures based on the artist’s childhood memories when he lived in Lagos, Nigeria. Shonibare was born in Britain, but his family moved to Lagos when he was three years old. These dreamlike sculptures evoke poetic surrealist juxtapositions, exploring the artist’s half-remembered childhood tales, as well as the constructed and fictitious memories of childhood, folklore, and tradition. Included in the show is Boy Sitting Beside a Hibiscus Flower, a sculpture based on the artist’s memory of his childhood garden in Nigeria. In a dreamlike scenario a boy sits under a giant hibiscus flower shaded from the hot sun, while in Ibeji (Twins) Riding a Butterfly, the artist explores Nigerian folklore about the significance of twins. Known as ‘Ibeji’ within Yoruba culture, twins are a source of anxiety and celebration, regarded as divine beings capable of bringing either affluence or misery to their parents. In the remaining new sculpture in the show, the artist remembers making magical imaginary journeys through books. In Girl Balancing Knowledge, a girl precariously balances books on her left hand, likely to collapse in a heap. She kicks her right foot over to her left as if in a silent, surreal dance of joy.
Education was highly valued in Shonibare’s family, which is why he returned to Britain at 17 years old to sit his A-levels. This work acts as a metaphor that bridges his time in Lagos and London, a move that was driven by his hunger for knowledge. The artist’s trademark material is the brightly coloured African batik fabric he purchases at Brixton market in London, which can be seen throughout the exhibition. The fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch, and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa where it became a new sign of African identity and independence in the 1960s. The fabric makes up the clothes on the figures of Shonibare’s new sculptures. For the first time at Pearl Lam Galleries, this exhibition will spread across two spaces at Gillman Barracks. A new space near block 5 will be home to the artist’s new body of work, while Pearl Lam Galleries’ original space in block 9 will be transformed into a screening room which will show two separate documentaries about Yinka Shonibare MBE, allowing visitors to find out more about the artist’s life and practice.