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Yinka Shonibare Returns to Singapore with "Justice For All"

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Yinka Shonibare Returns to Singapore with "Justice For All"

Acclaimed British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA brings his signature African batik prints to Singapore in an immersive, site-specific installation at The Arts House, the city-state's former Parliament. Presented by the Asian Art Instititum with Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, the exhibition was curated by Dr Zehra Jumabhoy, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and is a part of Singapore Art Week.

At a panel discussion during the opening of the installation, the artist expanded on how fabric is expressive of a contemporary globalized world, and how his works are connected to current affairs while not being overtly political. The Arts House installation has the artist replacing all the seat fabrics in the parliament hall with traditional African and Javanese batik prints, and a monumental sculpture installed at the end of the hall, reconfiguring F.W. Pomeroy's Lady Justice (1905-1906), another iconic sculpture that stands on the dome of the Old Bailey in London. Shonibare's Lady Justice wears a brightly patterned batik garment, spoting a hand-painted globe with a map of the world, in place of her head. 

We had the opportunity to find out more about Shonibare's inspiration behind the work, read on to find out more:

 

 

"Justice for All" (2019) by Yinka Shonibare CBE

Medium: Fibreglass sculpture, hand-painted with Dutch wax pattern, bespoke hand-coloured globe, steel baseplate, detachable sword and detachable scales.

Sculpture (including baseplate): 232 x 206 x 60 cm

Photographer credit, image courtesy: Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, Photographer: Stephen White

Your last exhibition in Singapore was in 2016 and addressed aspects of what you called ‘global trauma’. Since then, the world has arguably become even more fragmented. How would you say your recent work addresses the current state of global affairs?

The work in Singapore 'Justice for all' addresses the global issues of inequality. In London, I am currently showing two pieces around current subjects, Refugee Astronaut at the Welcome Gallery which explores the consequences of climate change and 'The British Library which deals with immigration.

 

What made you choose F.W. Pomeroy’s Lady Justice as the form of the work? What do you hope to communicate in replacing her head with a hand-painted globe? 

I chose Lady Justice to express a desire for an egalitarian world where justice is fair for everyone regardless of race, religion or geography.

"Justice for All" (2019) by Yinka Shonibare CBE

Medium: Fibreglass sculpture, hand-painted with Dutch wax pattern, bespoke hand-coloured globe, steel baseplate, detachable sword and detachable scales.

Sculpture (including baseplate): 232 x 206 x 60 cm

Photographer credit, image courtesy: Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, Photographer: Stephen White

A common motif in your works is Dutch wax batik, that was taken originally from Indonesia, and then exported to Africa in the 19th century. This particular artwork incorporates Javanese batik, as opposed to solely ‘African’ prints. What research did you undertake to select this particular print of Javanese batik? 

I worked with the Asian Art Institutum to research various patterns and designs from the Javanese batik tradition.  In the end, the pattern I chose for the body of ‘Justice for All’ is a Udan liris or ‘light rain’ design, in a colour combination of purple and orange on a turquoise green background, combined with a traditional Dutch batik pattern for her dress.

 

The perspective and implications of batik in Europe, Africa and Asia are incredibly varied between each region. How would you say this influences the audience’s understanding of the artwork, presented in Singapore or in a Southeast Asian context? 

As an Artist with a British-Nigerian identity I think Singaporeans will be able to understand the cross-cultural references in my work quite easily.

Image courtesy of Asian Art Institutum

How does the artwork integrate or explore the history of the artwork’s site, The Arts House, which was first used as a courthouse, then as a Legislative Assembly, and as the site for Singapore’s first parliamentary session as an independent nation? 

The Art work explores the issues of democracy, justice, liberty, independence and freedom of expression, expressed in the context of the work.

 

The Artwork is a site-specific installation, but the scale and content make it sound to be suited as a monumental public sculpture, presented in a similar context as F.W. Pomeroy’s Lady Justice at the Old Bailey. Given that this artwork is installed within a contained space, how does this affect the viewer’s experience of the artwork? 

Yes it will be very interesting to hear from the viewers how they experience the work within the space. My intention is for the installation to be an immersive, compelling experience.

You’ve experimented with many different media through the course of your practice, from painting to sculpture to photography. Are you looking into exploring any other media?

Interestingly I am working with quilts at the moment which is a new medium for me.

 

What projects or plans do you have for the coming year?

I’m currently working towards a survey exhibition at the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, opening in late June and a temporary public commission in Boston at Rose Kennedy Greenway for May this year.

 


Justice for All continues until 31 January 2020 at The Arts House, Singapore. Find out more here.


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