YINKA SHONIBARE, CBE
Man Moving Up, 2022
Fibreglass mannequins, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, bespoke globe, brass, leather, paper, cotton, silk, steel, aluminium and painted wood.
68 7/8 x 87 1/4 x 76 3/4 in.
175 x 221.7 x 195 cm
Yinka Shonibare’s installation Man Moving Up is about the Great Migration – the exodus of six million Black Americans from the rural South to cities in the North, Midwest, and West from 1916 to 1970.
The work consists of an adult male figure carrying his worldly possessions in two leather suitcases as he climbs a grand staircase, a metaphor for his upward movement geographically, economically, and socially. The ornate design of the staircase is based on that found at Chatsworth House in the UK, an Italianate estate that was a longstanding symbol of aristocratic power in Britain. In referencing Chatsworth House, the artist signals the generational wealth held by many of the white employers who figures of the Great Migration would come to work for in the north and ties that wealth back to British colonialism.
The figure dons 19th-century attire in Shonibare’s signature Dutch Wax fabric, which symbolizes the contradictions and complexities of cultural origins. His period costume alludes to the Victorian Era, when the foundations of the sharecropping system and Jim Crow – the source of suppression for Black Americans in the South – were laid.
Man Moving Up captures the bravery of the Black Americans who refused disenfranchisement by seeking a new place within urban public life in the North and West. The perseverance and self-assertion of this generation shaped the contemporary American socio-economic and cultural landscape.