about the mixture of cultures in art


Scramble for Africa, 2003, 14 figures, 14 chairs and table, mixed media, 52×192 x 110”.

Anthony Downey (…) Which brings me to the notion of ambiguity in your work, not least in your use of Dutch wax fabric. That fabric is a classic example of the so-called signifier of African authenticity, and yet it was produced by the Dutch for sale in Indonesia and then ended up in Nigeria. There is this notion of fabrication in your work—fabric itself, of course, but also fabrication, the telling of stories.

Yinka Shonibare To be an artist, you have to be a good liar. There’s no question about that. If you’re not, you can’t be a good artist. Basically, you have to know how to fabricate, how to weave tales, how to tell lies, because you’re taking your audience to a nonexistent space and telling them that it does exist. But you have to be utopian in your approach. You have to create visions that don’t actually exist yet in the world—or that may actually someday exist as a result of life following art. It’s natural for people to want to be sectarian or divisive. Different cultures want to group together, they want to stick to their own culture, but what I do is create a kind of mongrel. In reality most people’s cultures have evolved out of this mongrelization, but people don’t acknowledge that. British culture in reality is very mixed. There’s a way in which people want to keep this notion of purity, and that ultimately leads to the gas chambers. What I am doing may be humorous so as to show the stupidity of things. But at the same time I understand that the logical conclusion of sectarianism is Auschwitz, or the “logical” in its starkest manifestation. So even though these works are humorous, there’s a very dark underlying motivation.

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