CAS Acquisition: Yinka Shonibare’s Unstructured Icons

29 September 2022 By
Aristocrat I ~hi
Aristocrat II ~hi
Queen II ~hi
Queen I ~hi
Power ~hi
King ~hi

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA

Unstructured Icons, 2018
A set of six woodblock prints with fabric collage on Somerset Tub sized satin 410gsm paper in a limited edition of 25.
84 x 62 cm (paper)
70 x 50 cm (image) 

Yinka Shonibare’s work reflects his British-Nigerian heritage exploring themes of (post)colonialism, race and class in a globalised world. Shonibare’s practice is interdisciplinary, using sculpture, painting, photography and film to tell the story around identity formation. Ankara fabric has become a signature of his work. Also known as Dutch wax-print, it was introduced to West and Central Africans by Dutch merchants during the 19th century, imitating the batik technique they encountered when colonising Indonesia. 

Unstructured Icons is made of six woodblock prints, which are housed in a wooden portfolio box. In this series Shonibare responds to historical Western portraiture, overlaying them with fabric and stylised African ritual masks. King shows Henry VIII c.1537 and Queen I and Queen II show Elizabeth I c.1546 and c.1575 respectively. The original portrait of Henry VIII, which is part of the Walker Gallery’s collection in Liverpool, shows the King as taller, younger and healthier than he was at the time it was painted. If this portrait was commissioned to show his power, how does its message change when his face is obscured by an African mask and covered with Ankara patterns?   

The Victoria Gallery & Museum (VG&M) is part of the University of Liverpool, which originated in the 1880s and is such inexorably bound up in colonial legacies. Both VG&M and the University are hoping to redress historical injustices through a focused effort on diversifying their collections. This includes being part of The World Reimagined Project, a national initiative to give a platform for learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, colonialism and Black achievement, for which Shonibare is one of the lead artists. Portraits make up a large portion of the VG&M collection, and these prints will offer a way to springboard discussion. They will first go on display in October 2022 during Black History Month. 

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (b. 1962, London, UK) lives and works in London. He spent his childhood in Nigeria before returning to London to study. When he was eighteen he contracted transverse myelitis which has led to a long-term disability. Recent solo exhibitions include Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2022); Stephen Friedman Gallery, London (2021); Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2021); James Cohan Gallery, New York (2020); The Arts House, Singapore (2020); The British Museum, London (2019). Recent group exhibitions include Royal Academy, London; Victoria and Albery Museum, London; Magasin III, Stockholm, Sweden; Chiostro del Bramante, Italy (all 2022). He was awarded an MBE in 2004, and then a CBE in 2019 in recognition for his contribution to the arts. In 2013 he was elected a Royal Academician.


Efea Rutlin
Curatorial Trainee