Friday, March 20th, 2009 | Author:

shonibareLast Sunday I stopped by the SBMA to check out the new exhibit: Yinka Shonibare, MBE: A Flying Machine for Every Man, Woman and Child, and Other Astonishing Works. The exhibit is the first put together by the museum’s new curator of contemporary art, Julie Joyce. It was a bold choice for her inaugural effort. Shonibare’s work is hardly what one would think of as something that would be instantly adored by Santa Barbara’s artistically conservative museum patrons.  The majority of  Shonibare’s work in this exhibit consists of headless mannequins adorned in Victorian era clothes created from fabrics generally associated with African cultures. The point being that it makes a comment about the idealized Victorian lifestyle in contrast to the destructive and oppressive colonialism that existed concurrently. But regardless of whether you are able to make this connection, the works succeed on a very basic visual level: they are beautiful. The craftsmanship is impeccable, the fabrics are wonderful to look at and the poses of the mannequins genuinely made me laugh.

In an interview with Jan Garden Castro for Sculpture Magazine in 2006, Shonibare commented on his intentional, neatly headless creations, “…a lot of my work challenges the idea of hierarchy or aristocracy in some way.  During the French Revolution, the heads of the aristocrats were chopped off using the guillotine.  Basically it started as a joke, because I take working class fabrics from Africa and dress the aristocracy in those fabrics and then I take their heads off, but there’s no blood or violence.  It’s witty in a knowing sort of way.”

It is a wonderful show, and I was happy to see so many people in the museum to see the exhibit. When I heard about the show, I was quite skeptical about the reaction it would receive. Then a friend of mine who keeps his finger on the pulse of Santa Barbara’s art patrons said something that I found particularly telling: “It passes the Santa Barbara test. It doesn’t look like a four year old could do it.”

Show Ms. Joyce your support and make sure to check out this great show. Then come back here and let us know what you think.

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