Last Thursday we welcomed over 900 members to the opening of Yinka Shonibare MBE. The weather was perfect, the galleries were packed, and the glass Pavilion was pretty in pink, with festive tablecloths to complement the hot pink walls of the exhibition.
Speaking of festive, members received a special surprise when the artist showed up. While having an artist attend the exhibition opening is always a treat in and of itself, Shonibare made an entrance that we wouldn’t forget: he walked in arm in arm with two companions who were impeccably dressed in full Victorian costume−it was as if they had just emerged from one of Shonibare’s photographs right into the museum!
After walking through the exhibition with these lovely attendants by his side, Shonibare spoke with his good friend and author, Dr. Anthony Downey of the Sotheby’s Institute in London. This was truly the main event, as 450 members packed in to the auditorium to have this special chance to hear the artist speak about his work in conversation with a leading expert on contemporary art. Their engaging conversation centered on the “authenticity” of Shonibare’s work as an “African” artist working in the UK. A tutor of his initially recommended he focus on his African heritage instead of other themes he was exploring at the time. He went to Brixton market where African print fabrics are sold and found out that Dutch wax fabric as it is called, is actually produced in Europe and imitates Indonesian Batik patterns. Initially made to sell in Indonesia, they ended up being sold in West Africa because Indonesians preferred their own fabrics. At the time Yinka realized this would be the central theme that would run in his works: the idea of authentic versus inauthentic.
Following questions from the audience, Shonibare graciously signed exhibition catalogues for members on stage until he’d gotten through the very last person in line. Members flocked to the galleries afterwards, particularly to the museum’s Period Rooms, where Shonibare’s works are whimsically integrated into these 18th and 19th century settings.
As this exhibition is the first major U.S. survey of Shonibare’s work, the opening last night was meaningful for everyone involved, and we thank everyone who came out for this special evening. Yinka Shonibare MBE is now open to the public and will be on view until September 20.