Gluttony, luxury, war and excess. The themes in this exhibition are clear, they are screaming out at you as you enter and don’t rest until some time after you leave.
The centre-piece of Yinka Shonibare MBE’s new exhibition at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London is a large scale installation of a subverted Last Supper with indulgent feasting and sexual depravity draped in colourful African prints. In the next room champagne corks are popping and figures with globes for heads are falling over backwards on their chairs, with references made to ‘Lehman Brothers’ and the banking crisis. The third room presents a mixture of plastic sparkly toys – guns, Roman soldiers, diamond rings and handbags. He’s definitely trying to make a point.
But it’s the gallows humour that Shonibare brings that stops this from bubbling over into hysteria and outright hate – such as the man holding a bottle of champagne as he dangles from a chair fixed to the wall that you can’t really help but find amusing or the theatrical nature of The Last Supper as the debauched group sit around having a whale of a time while we look on and make inferences to banking excesses and outrageous luxury. It’s this ability Shonibare has to make you enjoy the spectacle while drinking in the meaning that makes his work stand out.
Shonibare’s trademark Dutch wax print fabrics are fully on display here – the fabric with its Indonesian inspired patterns that was made in the Netherlands, then later made in Manchester and often bought in Brixton market, but which resonates with African associations is often used by Shonibare to explore the complexity of imperialism, globalisation and identity. Unlike Shonibare’s previous work I felt that without these fabrics the points would still be much the same and that there was less subtlety in that sense. But they are always impressive to see and did fit well with the global nature of the issues being explored while helping to take you into a fantasy world as you wander through the exhibition inviting you to try and work out whether you should be laughing, be horrified, or just be intrigued.
The exhibition is showing at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 20 April 2013
Stephen Friedman Gallery
25-28 Old Burlington Street
London W1S 3AN
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6pm Saturday 11am – 5pm