London based British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare arrived in New York last week for the unveiling of his latest artwork. Placed there by the Public Art Fund, a cityworks program that oversees public artworks in the area, the new ‘Wind Sculpture’ stands in the middle of Doris C. Freedman plaza at the southeast entrance to Central Park.
The Public Art Fund’s champions artists who are leading the conversation and the direction in contemporary art internationally. Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume joined Shonibare at the unveiling and shared a few words about the fund’s mission.
“We 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.”Nicholas Baume
Yinka Shonibare “Wind Sculpture” is part of a migration series which evolved from a previous sculpture in Trafalgar Square called “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle”. As the name suggests the sculpture is a giant bottle with a ship inside, the sails are fashioned from British-Nigerian textiles.
“A lot of migrants, particularly about a hundred years ago at least, traveled by sea. (For me) the sails are a very symbolic thing and the wind was part of the process of traveling by boat,” Shonibare says, “New York is a migrant city… not just in the United States.
Shonibare dives deeper into the series’ inspiration, speaking specifically about Nelson’s ship. Historically, when [Admiral Lord] Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar the British empire was able to expand as they had more access to the sea.
Shonibare pinpoints this battle and the British expansion into Nigeria as a turning point, “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,” Shonibare said.
In Europe and the United States there’s a growing climate of anti-immigrant discord without discussion of how our societies created wealth. In a way this work is a conversation starter, a tribute to migrants, and a reminder we all have a lot to be thankful for.