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Yinka Shonibare


Yinka Shonibare



Institution Walker Art Center
I'm going to start by giving you some idea of what my work is about, and some of the things I think about. My background is that I was born in London--my parents were studying law in London at the time. And I went back to Nigeria with my parents when I was quite young, I must have been about five years old, and then came back to Britain to go to boarding school.

It's kind of interesting because a lot of Nigerians actually grow up being bicultural. So, on the one hand, you would speak English at school and at home you would speak my language, which is actually Yoruba, and that's the language I grew up speaking. Because of the kind of colonial system, you would actually be fined for speaking your own language at school, so you would have to speak English.

So anyway, I went to boarding school in England and when I left boarding school, I decided to study visual arts. What I found very interesting about that experience was when I started to study visual arts, there was some expectation from my tutors--although they knew fully well that I was bicultural, bilingual--there was some kind of expectation that I would produce inadvertent comments, ethnic comments.

I became very politicized [sic] in my second year at college. I started to actually make . . . I made a huge departure from painting from the figure. And I started to do quite political work. I was making work about perestroika in Russia; primarily just world issues [were what] I was making work about. I remember I had a studio in Britain, and one of the tutors came to my studio and he said to me, "Perestroika, what's that got to do with you? Why aren't you making work about your roots, your African-ness, your ethnicity?" And I thought: Well, what would that be? What actually constitutes the notion of authenticity, given the colonial background, my background? How would I actually go about producing art that would be pure and that would touch on some of my own supposedly indigenous background?

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Type: Other, transcript
Source: Yinka Shonibare, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.
Rights: Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009