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portrait of Yinka Shonibare CBE

At Sharjah Biennial 15, Yinka Shonibare CBE presents his most recent work, Decolonised Structures (2022), which recreates seven public statues of British imperialists—from Sir Robert Clive to Queen Victoria to Sir Charles James Napier, among others—that currently shape the cityscape and very fabric of London. Stripped of the authority of bronze and marble, in addition to their position within the built environment of a metropolitan centre, the slightly smaller-than-life-sized statues are instead shrouded in the colonial legacy of Dutch wax patterns. The artist thus reveals the ties between places and powers through this fabric design, which originated in Indonesia and was mass-produced by the Dutch and sold to Britain’s West African colonies. He incorporates what viewers might otherwise consider an authentic African textile, uncovering a hybrid history of fabrics that complicates the often-latent meanings held within materials. By reproducing and decontextualising these monuments, Shonibare not only highlights the political realities that gave rise to them, but also demonstrates how their presence in contemporary public spaces evokes pressing discussions around Britain’s current relationship with its past and the institutional and structural racism it conceived.

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