Article by AJ Kiyoizumi in Berlin; Friday, Feb. 21, 2014
The massive space of Blain|Southern isn’t an easy one to fill. The hangar-sized rooms can dwarf installations and sculpture, the white vaulted ceilings overpower. But the bursts of tailored and saturated colour in Yinka Shonibare’s solo exhibition Making Eden fill the void with their crafted energy. We are drawn to the vibrant installations, sculptures, and collages, and stay flocked around the pieces due to the darkness and depth of the conversations surrounding the artwork.
In the frieze-like mural Eden Painting (2013) Noah’s Ark animal toys encircle patterned polka-dots on a vibrant sky-blue background. The other two ground-floor installations are faceless mannequins in tailored and brightly patterned clothes, leading us to think at first that Shonibare is a glorified costume designer with an eye for mixing patterns and colours.
But that assumption would be wrong — Shonibare’s work upstairs shows that aesthetically compelling work can provide strong statements as well. His signature use of Dutch wax, African-style fabrics in Western clothing patterns continues with the gun-slinging ballerina and tight-rope balanced Revolution Kid (Calf), but no longer are these simply peaceful and pretty, stylish figures that could almost belong in an luxury shop window. These figures are revolutionary figures, ones that Shonibare has likely re-imagined from history, legend, or a mixture of both.
The line of collages upstairs features gold leaf, floral shapes in patterned paper, newspaper cutouts of stocks and wanted ads, and scrawled names of historical figures, from Jesus Christ to Baby Face Nelson to Che Guevara and Leon Trotsky. Iconic photos also march through the collages, such as the “flower power” image of students sliding carnation stems into the barrels of guns pointed at them during a Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon in 1967. With these more traditional, framed and mounted pieces, Shonibare’s objections to expectations and stereotypes of revolutionary heroes and villains are most pronounced.
The juxtaposition of utopian ideals and lived realities clash in an unpleasant way. Many revolutionaries are remembered for a romanticized yet ambiguous mixture of idealism, sometimes violence, and often times failure. We can see that ourselves with the 2011 Occupy movements in the USA — though protests were at times strong, there were never any concrete demands or results.
Though Shonibare is saying our utopian desires are flawed and paradoxical, they aren’t futile. Poetically, Shonibare illustrates the power of optimism and shows that it doesn’t need to be ignorant optimism, but can be informed, self-aware, twisted, and open-ended.
“Making Eden” – YINKA SHONIBARE MBE
Exhibition: Feb. 15 – Apr. 19, 2014
Opening Reception: Friday, Feb. 14; 6-9pm
Potsdamer Straße 77-87 (click here for map)
AJ Kiyoizumi is a writer originally from California and now living in Berlin.