Earlier this month, the Public Art Fund revealed their newest commission for New York City: a towering, hand-painted sculpture by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE.
Yinka Shonibare’s multidisciplinary practice investigates the complexities of postcolonial life. His oeuvre is inspired by colorful, patterned fabrics that evoke discourses of layered cultural identities and human migration as a result of imperialism. At the southeast entrance to Central Park on Fifth Ave. and 60th St., Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture (SG) I is an arresting, 23-foot-tall fiberglass sail. An unwavering monolith at first glance, Wind Sculpture (SG) I is, upon closer inspection, an exquisitely detailed and fluid artwork with folds and billows that communicate freedom of movement in the breeze.
“Monumental in scale and imposingly sited on axis with the entrance to Central Park, Yinka Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture (SG) I assumes the aspect of a classical civic monument,” says Nicholas Baume, the Public Art Fund’s director and chief curator. “However, its lithe and undulating form and its vibrant, colorful surface suggest a very different approach. This is one of his most abstract works, yet it still tells a story. Its patterned, fluttering sail suggests the geographical, cultural, and personal layers of a migration borne aloft on the cross currents of colonial history.”
Wind Sculpture (SG) I boasts a hand-painted pattern featuring hues of orange, turquoise, and red. The colors are reminiscent of the artist’s childhood in Lagos, while the print is inspired by the wax batik fabrics introduced to the African continent by the Dutch. These fabrics are indeed redolent of European colonization, but they arrived in Africa “by way of Indonesia through Dutch colonization in the 1800s,” the Public Art Fund informs. They continue to be manufactured in the Netherlands and worn throughout West Africa.
Shonibare is a self-proclaimed “post-colonial hybrid,” his work—which ranges from sculpture to painting, photography, film, and performance art—serving as a lens through which to examine the politics and nuances of race and identity in an increasingly globalized age.
“[Wind Sculpture (SG) I] will create an opportunity to reflect on social issues associated with our current moment, including the movement of people and ideas across borders and the role of monuments in heterogeneous societies,” says the Public Art Fund in an announcement. A multi-dimensional installation to say the least, Wind Sculpture (SG) I is an interface of tangled identities and the flow of people and their cultural practices. It’s also symbolic of the ship, “which for centuries was the only means of traversing oceans to exchange culture and ideas,” notes the project’s press release.
Shonibare has been creating Wind Sculptures in various prints and colors since 2013. “Using fabric as an entry point to rethink history and meaning and the relationship between Europe and Africa; it presents a story of shifting design and culture that also speaks to the confluence of many identities in public spaces,” writes the Public Art Fund. The first series included Wind Sculptures I-VII.
Wind Sculpture (SG) I is the first of Shonibare’s new “generation” of sail-like sculptures, which are due to be larger and more complex in pattern and design.
Wind Sculpture (SG) I will remain on view until October 14, 2018 at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street, New York, NY 10019.