Two Heads At Once, Two Places In One

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

Nestled between Park Slope and Crown Heights, a neighborhood with large numbers of both Orthodox Jews and West Africans, the Brooklyn Museum was the setting for the opening of a show that in unique and purposeful ways brought together African and European cultures. Curiously, the work also brings cultural clashes that occurred in colonial times into the present. And what better artistic mind for such an interpretation than an English-born, African-raised artist living in contemporary London.

From the work of artist Yinka Shonibare, it’s clear not much is open to broad interpretation, which seemed to contribute to a dearth of good questions from the audience. One audience member, perhaps wanting only to hear himself, asked Shonibare about his thoughts on Madonna’s attempts to adopt African babies. Shonibare declined to answer.

From the Brooklyn Museum website: This exhibition is a major midcareer survey of work by the UK-based Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE. Shonibare’s artwork explores contemporary African identity and its relationship to European colonialism through painting, sculpture, installation, and moving images. Shonibare is best known for his work with visual symbols, especially the richly patterned Dutch wax fabric produced in Europe for a West African market that he uses in a wide range of applications. His tableaux of headless mannequins costumed in this fabric evoke themes of history and its legacy for future generations. Through these works, he explores the complex web of interactions, both economic and racial, that reveal inequalities between the dominant and colonized cultures of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

One of the most interesting portions of the exhibit is the mannequins placed throughout the museum’s period rooms on the fourth floor. They serve to add life, though it is headless life, to these normally staid rooms. Another site-specific installation opens July 1 in the dining room of the Ballentine House at the Newark Museum.

Perhaps the best part of these member nights is the great social event in the lobby of the museum. Wonderful snacks and drinks are served in a social setting that to me more than justifies the price of a museum membership.

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