Yinka Shonibare CBE RA: End of Empire

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA: End of Empire

12 Oct 2023 - 23 Jun 2024

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-5pm and selected bank holidays

This large-scale sculpture comments on the balance of power at the outset of the First World War, making a striking visual connection between the conflicts of the West, globalisation and empire.

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Free admission. No need to book.

Commissioned by 14-18 NOW End of Empire depicts two dapper figures with globe heads on a steam-punk seesaw - a symbol of Victorian industrialism. They wear brightly coloured suits made of ‘Dutch wax’ textiles: fabric that tells a story about colonial history, via Indonesian-style batik prints made in Dutch mills and sold to 19th-century Nigeria.

The globe heads represent the two ‘sides’ in the First World War: the British-French allies versus the Austro-Hungarians and Germans. The coloured textile designs indicate the African lands formerly colonised by the Europeans.

The First World War witnessed the disappearance of four once-powerful realms - German, Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian. The seesaw swings slowly, constantly rebalancing - a symbol of the move towards this 'end of empire’.

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Yinka Shonibare in Conversation from Arts Council Collection, 2019
A Tale of Today, Driehaus Museum, 2019
Portraying the Sordid Shadow of Colonial History from Bloomberg Originals, 2016

Yinka Shonibare CBE, photographed in his studio, 2022. Image courtesy the artist. Photographer Leon Foggitt, 2022.

About the artist

Yinka Shonibare CBE is a British-born Nigerian artist who moved from London to Lagos as a child. He is known for works that tackle the themes of globalisation and empire. The use of Dutch wax fabric is a hallmark of Shonibare’s work. Historically produced by Dutch colonisers, the fabric was claimed and repurposed by West Africans.

Shonibare was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004 and became a Royal Academician in 2013. Made an MBE in 2004 and a CBE in 2019, he wears this title in a self-consciously postcolonial way, stating: “I can’t be defined without the British-colonial experience of my birth and background. I don’t exist without it. My biggest preoccupation is with the idea of universal humanism.

With thanks

Presented by Art Fund and 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, to Bristol Museum and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Image credits

Header image: Yinka Shonibare CBE, End of Empire, 2016. Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Turner Contemporary, Margate. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photographer: Stephen White & Co. © Yinka Shonibare CBE.
Artist image: Yinka Shonibare CBE, photographed in his studio, 2022. Image courtesy the artist. Photographer Leon Foggitt, 2022.