Exhibitions: Yinka Shonibare MBE: Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play

Yinka Shonibare: Seated Girl

Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. United Kingdom, 1962), Seated Girl (Trippe House Bedchamber), 2009. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Photograph: Brooklyn Museum

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This series of works, originally placed within the context of the Brooklyn Museum period rooms, drew upon the rooms’ expressions of American middle-class aspiration and achievement. The series features mannequins of children that are, characteristically of Yinka Shonibare’s practice, headless and dressed in Victorian costumes made from African fabrics.

At the Brooklyn Museum, the installation was akin to a treasure hunt, with mischievous children hidden in various parts of the rooms. Though the figures play in unexpected and physically challenging positions, their presence in the rooms was not immediately obvious, making the experience of wandering through to discover them uncanny. The mannequins suggest the overindulgence and recklessness of a privileged class of youth that has benefited from the hard work of its ancestors. Unruly and anarchical, the figures exhibited rebellious behaviors in direct opposition to their environment, rooms that through the placement of the belongings on display, elaborate textiles, and the refinement of the furnishings illustrate both the pride and constraints of the day.

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