Born in London and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Yinka Shonibare refers to himself as a ‘postcolonial hybrid’. His work comments on contemporary identity politics, cultural history, the legacy of colonialism and the structures of international trade. He works in multiple disciplines, including painting, photography, assemblage, dance, literature and film.
Reverend on ice 2005 takes as its point of departure a painting by Sir Henry Raeburn, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating 1784, which Shonibare had seen while undertaking research at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. He commented that he liked the ‘contradiction between the serious man and the playful gesture’; this has been exploited further in Shonibare’s response through the his reverend’s ornate attire, physique and graceful pose. The fabric used in the work has a fascinating history, having originally been produced by the Dutch in the late nineteenth century. Despite incorporating traditional Indonesian batik designs, it failed to appeal to the Indonesian textile market for whom it was intended. The so-called ‘Dutch wax’ fabric was then exported by both Dutch and British manufacturers to West Africa, where it is now an important and distinctive element of this region’s culture. Shonibare often purchases the fabric from markets in Brixton, England. By clothing European characters in this material, he points to alternative histories.