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Walker Art Center



Institution Walker Art Center
Born in London in 1962, and raised in Nigeria from the age of four, Yinka Shonibare returned to London to study at Goldsmiths College. At school he originally made figurative paintings, and in his second year began to incorporate political events as the subject of his work.

In Dysfunctional Family Shonibare uses batik-patterned fabric to cover four stuffed mannequins that look like clich├ęd representations of aliens. The work is overtly silly, using the most extreme version of foreignness--an alien from outer space--to call into question the ways we perceive difference. At first glance, they are all strange creatures; in their outrageous forms we can easily identify them as different from ourselves. Then we begin to perceive the differences among the aliens: There is both a parent and child in each fabric, obviously different from each other. On a very basic level Shonibare demonstrates how we use visual cues to categorize other beings. He uses "aliens" consciously in the term's association with immigration and foreignness (as in the phrase "illegal aliens"), but also to comment on the absurdity of reinforcing difference through stereotyping by race, class, or nationality.

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Type: Commentary, online content
Source: Yinka Shonibare, Dysfunctional Family (1999), from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.
Rights: Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009