Yinka Shonibare, CBE
Invasion, Escape: Aliens do it right!
27th June – 11th August 2012
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks
The inaugural exhibition by Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA) at Anna Schwartz Gallery focuses on the idea of the alien as a means of exploring the turbulent history of immigration. Fictionalised beings as symbols of foreignness provide a humorous, naïve and populist aesthetic to raise issues of belonging in a globalised world.
The exhibition highlights the tension between authorized and unauthorized settlement in Australia, a country peopled by foreign settlers since 1788. Debates in foreign policy, from the White Australia Policy (1901) to the Pacific Solution (2001) are invoked by the works that comprise ‘Invasion, Escape; Aliens do it right!’.
Utilising three mediums; sculpture, painting and drawing, the audience initially encounters three aliens: a single standing figure and two in spectacular flying machines which rupture the gallery space, suggestive of an invasion. The pieces address xenophobia and the alienation of foreigners.
Alien Toy Painting, an imagined galaxy, comprising seventy-five round batic paintings installed on a black background, stretches across the gallery wall. Thick painting is used alternatively on the front and the sides of the orbs. Balanced on delicate, coloured spindles, a variety of space themed toys halo the works. Lego men, Star Wars paraphernalia and alien eggs playfully question the notion of citizenship and nationalism.
The exhibition significantly includes a large scale assemblage of twenty-four works on paper. These intimate collages chart Australia’s history of immigration utilising historical documentation including passenger lists from the first ships leaving England, extracts from British court records, contemporary newspaper articles about the Tampa crisis, gold leaf and Sci-Fi cartoons. They are installed, by virtue of the coloured backgrounds and frames, in the form of the indigenous Australian flag. This acknowledges the significance of Aboriginal culture as the foundation upon which Australia was built.
The theme of indigeneity is furthered by Shonibare’s Totem Paintings. Looming, rectangular paintings are propped against the walls, vividly coloured, painted nails spiking their sides. Shonibare’s tactile paint surfaces alternate between the side and front of the batic canvases. As a pop interpretation of African fetish objects, the works speak of artificial exoticism. The use of industrially produced textiles, nails and paint combine to create Shonibare’s ironic expression.
Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA) was a Turner Prize nominee in 2004 and was awarded the decoration of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He was commissioned by Okwui Enwezor for ‘Documenta XI’ in 2002. This notable inclusion introduced him to an international audience, and recognised him as a leading force in contemporary African art. The artist has since exhibited at the Venice Biennale and in major institutions worldwide. In 2008, a mid-career survey was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; this exhibition then toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. In 2010, Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, his first public commission, was unveiled in London’s high profile site for sculpture, the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.