London based, British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare was in New York last week for the unveiling of his first ever artwork in New York City.
Located in the middle of Doris C. Freedman plaza at the southeast entrance to Central Park is his tall and bright “Wind Sculpture” placed there by the Public Art Fund which oversees the rotating public works in the area.
“The Public Art Fund has a mission to present the work of artists who are leading the conversation and the direction in contemporary art internationally,” says director of Public Art Fund Nicholas Baume, who joined Shonibare for the art’s public unveiling last week. “We of course are fundamentally committed to freedom of expression, artistic freedom, and the belief that artists should have a platform as a part of a dynamic, civic culture, and that public art is a vital way to do that.”
Regarding the message of Yinka Shonibare’s scultpure the artist was quoted saying “my piece (Wind Sculpture) is about the different backgrounds of people coming together.” Shonibare’s work intrinsically explores global migration. The “Wind Sculpture” series, painted in the style of African textiles and inspired by a sail blowing in the wind, evolved out of his previous sculpture in Trafalgar Square, “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle,” and just as the name suggests, the sculpture is a giant bottle with a ship inside, sails fashioned from African textiles.
“[Admiral Lord] Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar. The British empire was able to expand after that battle, and they had more access to the sea,” Shonibare says. “Nigeria is where my family’s from. After that battle the British empire expanded, and so that battle is indirectly responsible for me actually being in London.”
And like many items attributed to certain cultures, the origin of the African textiles is not, in fact, Africa; the fabrics were Indonesian, produced by the Dutch and sold in North Africa, where they became popular.
“I decided to use fabrics in my work to explore issues around identity….as they related to my own Nigerian-British background,” says Shonibare.
“A lot of migrants, particularly about a hundred years ago at least, traveled by sea. So the sails are a very symbolic thing. And the wind was usually part of the process of traveling by boat,” he continues. “New York is a migrant city…not just in the United States, Europe as well, there’s a particular climate that’s not very generous toward immigrants. But actually most of the talent we have within our society are immigrants, particularly in the United States. In a way this work is also a kind of celebration and a tribute as well to migrants.”