Shonibare at Play in the Period Rooms


Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play is a work that was made specifically for our period rooms. Last spring when Yinka Shonibare was in New York, he visited the Brooklyn Museum to meet with the relevant staff and also to take a look at the Blum and 4th floor Schapiro galleries, where his survey Yinka Shonibare MBE would be installed. While he was here, we gave him a tour of our period rooms, and he was immediately enchanted by them. Before the day was over, it was decided that he would create a site-specific work for a number of those rooms. Once he was back in London, we emailed him the floor plans for the period rooms along with documents about the history of each of the rooms. Yinka seemed taken not only with the way the rooms look—the furnishings, the maze-like layout of the houses, etc—but also with the historical context of the rooms.


Months later, we started to receive “work in progress” shots of the children-size mannequins. First the preliminary sketches, then the sculpted clay bodies of the mannequins, and finally a picture of the girl with jump rope. Then the mannequins were packed and crated in Yinka’s studio and sent by ship to arrive here in time for the installation. Even though they were produced in London and there were no opportunities to try them out in the respective rooms before their arrival, they all fit perfectly in their new temporary homes.


As Yinka has said about the placement of the children, “It’s like the children’s game, ‘Where’s Waldo?'” There are no individual labels pointing out the specific locations of the children; the idea is for our visitors to wander through the rooms and stumble upon them. Hopefully those who usually come to the Brooklyn Museum to see contemporary works will discover our wonderful period rooms through Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play. And, those who are already familiar with the period rooms will rediscover these rooms and see them in a different way.

Photos: Yinka Shonibare MBE installation Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play in the Brooklyn Museum period rooms.  From top to bottom installations in the Cane Acres Plantation House, John D. Rockefeller House Moorish Smoking Room, and Trippe House.