Shonibare employs a wide range of media – sculpture, painting, photography, video and installation pieces – to explore matters of race, class, cultural identity, and history. The artist is best-known for his use of a colourful batik fabric, which, though labeled as ‘African’, actually originates in Indonesia and was introduced to Africa by British manufacturers via Dutch colonisers in the nineteenth century. Incorporating the fabric into Victorian dresses, covering sculptures of alien figures with it or stretching it onto canvases, Shonibare uses the fabric as a metaphor to address issues of origin and authenticity.Published as a companion to Shonibare’s first retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, this survey explores all aspects of Shonibare’s work, offering a fully comprehensive portrait of his projects. Whether he is lampooning Victorian propriety or commenting on the latent ambiguities of the term ‘alien’, Shonibare makes art that challenges straightforward interpretations. Essays by Rachel Kent and Robert Hobbs, together with a generous selection of colour illustrations explore this talented young artist’s work.
Following on from the faddishness surrounding the critical uses and abuses of the term ‘postmodern’ in the 1980s and 1990s, a singular and somewhat disconcerting question came to light, one less involved with the apparent ‘post’ of modernity as it was with finding out whether we were indeed modern or, perhaps more gnomically, whether we were even premodern. A significant part of this project found purchase by enquiring into that which modernity had elided along the way, namely, the disavowed alter-modernities that consistently threatened to usurp any univocal global claim to postmodernity. It was with these and other issues in mind that Manifesta 7, with a firm eye on the so-called ‘residues’ of modernity, set out its latest curatorial stall. Taking place over four different locations, all in the shadow of the South Tyrol Dolomites in Northern Italy, and employing three curatorial teams (made up, in turn, of six curators), Manifesta 7 included over 200 artists and collaborators, not to mention 100 off-site projects. It was, in fine, ambitious. Travelling north to south, the first venue on the itinerary was Fortezza, an impressive fort which is also known locally as Franzensfeste, the latter being its original Austrian name. Since its completion in 1838, the only forces to have breached its defences are a road, two railway lines and a motorway. There is certainly a moral to be had in this tale and the curators, all three groups in this instance, set out to exploit it: a fort that had never been overrun subsequently becoming a white elephant of sorts and eventually a venue for an international exhibition of contemporary art – that had to be worth a curatorial gambit or two. However, and despite the size and the uniqueness of the location and its legacy, this section of Manifesta, entitled ‘Scenarios’, was the least interesting, and not only because there was so little to actually see. (more…)