Diana of Gabii, 2019
Fibreglass sculpture, hand-painted with Dutch wax pattern, bespoke hand-coloured globe and steel baseplate
55.13 x 16.75 x 15 in.


The artist

In Shonibare’s series of Classical Figures, Shonibare is reclaiming classical Roman sculptures for the world. The familiar sculptures Shonibare borrows for his sources were originally painted in poly-chrome on marble and their forms were appropriated from the Greeks. Many centuries later, the paint washed away to reveal their white statuary and these sculptures were acclaimed for their purity and embodiment of the ideal. Joachim Johann Winckelmann, an 18th century German neoclassical art historian developed a philosophy of beauty, involving the direct experience of beautiful objects in relation to philosophical formalism. Later the Third Reich co-opted Winkelman’s writings and laid their claim that these classic sculptures were the perfect symbol of the white supremacy they extolled. Shonibare is taking them back.

Classical Figures are hand painted with patterns borrowed from the African fabrics that are his signature--their mixed origins (cross-cultural hybrids of Indonesian design, Dutch manufacture and African expression) serve as a perfect metaphor for interdependence and post colonial identity. Instead of heads, the figures are topped with globes depicting current political borders thus tracing the scope of human thought and accomplishment from the ancient world to the present.

Diana of Gabii is a statue of a woman in drapery which probably represents the goddess Artemis and is traditionally attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles. It became part of the Borghese collection and is now conserved in the Louvre.

Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA) was born in London in 1962 and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to the UK to study Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art, London and Goldsmiths College, London, where he received his Master’s in Fine Art.

Over the past decades, Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. Working in painting, sculpture, photography, film and installation, Shonibare’s work examines race, class and the construction of cultural identity through a sharp political commentary of the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Shonibare uses wry citations of Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities.

In 2002, Shonibare was commissioned by Okwui Enwezor to create one of his most recognised installations, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation for Documenta XI. In 2004, he was nominated for the Turner Prize and was awarded the decoration of Member of the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’, or MBE. In 2019 Shonibare was made Commander of the same order, amending his professional name to include CBE. In 2008, his mid-career survey commenced at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. In 2010, his first public art commission Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle was displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.

In 2013, Shonibare was elected as a Royal Academician and his most recent contributions have included: the RA Family Album, which was used to wrap Burlington Gardens building during construction and his two curated rooms which were part of the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, during which Wind Sculpture VI was also displayed in the RA courtyard.

His recent major commission with the Public Art Fund, Wind Sculpture (SG) I, was installed at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park from March 7 through October 14, 2018. FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art presented The American Library at the Cleveland Public Library from July 14 until September 30, 2018. The British Library was recently acquired by the Tate London, where it remains on long term display.

Shonibare’s works are included in notable collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome; Pérez Art Museum Miami in Florida and VandenBroek Foundation, The Netherlands.

For all enquiries, please contact Elizabeth.Webb@sothebys.com