Dedicated Follower of Fashion: Yinka Shonibare MBE at the Brooklyn Museum.

The Swing (After Fragonard), 2001. (Photos by C-M.)

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing and Yinka Shonibare’s solo show at the Brooklyn Museum is it. Don’t get me wrong. His sculptures are a wonder to look at, skillfully-crafted ensembles that meld African-style Dutch wax fabrics with 18th century and Victorian fashion — all arranged in dramatic dioramas. This is paired with an all-important subtext: the pieces insert representations of African-ness into traditional European art, reminding us that the African experience has long been a part of Western culture, even if it has been barely depicted on canvas. The effect is lush and beautiful and tragic. But, as enjoyable as it the show is to look at (boy, would I looove to rock one of them dresses), after a while, the repetitive imagery, relentlessly bright colors and hyper-hedonistic settings started  to make me feel as if I’d eaten too much candy. Dizzy, disoriented, a little sick to my stomach. But, perhaps, that was the point.

On a side note: The Met’s Costume Institute might do well to study this show. It was wonderfully and elegantly installed — with some pieces incorporated into the museum’s period rooms. Who ever curated the Met’s sloppy cheese-fest otherwise known as Model as Muse (that ’60s fashion room with the lava lamp effects looked as if it was channeling the Woodstock museum) should get over to Brooklyn, stat! And start taking notes…

Yinka Shonibare MBE is at the Brooklyn Museum through Sept. 20.

Looking Around has a very interesting interview with the artist in one and two parts.

Click on images to supersize.

How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006.

Scramble for Africa, 2005.

Detail: Scramble for Africa.

Detail: Scramble for Africa.

I did dig this room set that Shonibare built, complete with settee, fireplace and soccer-player wallpaper.

A close-up.

Even closer.

One of the more intriguing pieces in the show: a still from the video Odile and Odette, 2005, a play on the two main characters from Swan Lake (Odile and Odette, the black swan and white swan respectively). The video doesn’t contain music, just a white figure and black figure, mimicking each others moves to the constant hammering of their toe shoes – a striking opportunity to soak up the irrational manner in which a culture defines its standards of beauty.

Yonibare, left, being interviewed at the press preview.

The naughty room, where everyone was do-do-doin’ it. Otherwise known as Gallantry and Criminal Conversation, a piece from 2002.

Shonibare created site-specific installations inside a number of the period rooms on the museum’s 4th floor. Here, a child skip ropes in what used to be a lounge belonging to the Rockefellers.

Out for a walk: Leisure Lady (With Ocelots), 2001. Oh-so-much-better with a monkey.


  1. Katy

    I love the humour in these pieces, as well as the fantastic use of colour and pattern. Sure wish I was in Brooklyn right now.

  2. haruspex

    Did you see the Met’s costume show Dangerous Liaisons a few years ago? It was exquisitely and wittily installed in the French period rooms. I thought the followup, Anglomania, did less well in siting the costumes in the English rooms, but it was still pretty good.

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