Yinka Shonibare, MBE: The Fabric of Time

Yinka Shonibare, MBE studied Fine Art first at Byam Shaw College of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA graduating as part of the "Young British Artists" generation. Shonibare was a Turner Prize nominee in 2004 and awarded the decoration of Member of the "Most Excellent Order of the British Empire". In 2010, "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" became his first public art commission on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. He currently lives and works in the East End of London.  Yinka Shonibare, MBE is not technically a "fashion photographer, " but his subject may indeed be fashion. At the forefront of his identifiable style: Dutch wax fabric- the stereotypical patterns of traditional African garb. Ironically, these "tranditional" patterns are not traditionally African at all. Born in London, but raised in Lagos, Nigeria, the clothing explores the dichotomies inherent in his upbringing: colonialism, racism, and identity.

"One irony of Shonibare's art is seeing the sober, expropriatory European mannequins dressed in glowing fabrics they originally created as means of trasfering currency out of their colonies...it piles irony upon irony, this fabric," said Dan Bischoff ("Post-Colonial Party Time, " FiberArts, Jan/Feb 2010).


If fashion photography is about creating a fantasy, then Shonibare's work is fashion photography. He loves the falsity surrounding the "authentic" patterns, and styling them as traditional Victorian garb only adds to the joke. He has printed his personalized batiks with fashion logos from the house of Chanel, and with the numeral "50" to mark Ghana's 50th year of independence.

"I don't link visual art and fashion," Shonibare said in an interview with Coline Milliard. " Curators come and give it a name. Its nice to have a job, you know. For me, it's just a job. I don't care what they call it, just give me the job."


In 2005, he was bestowed the formal title Member of the Order of the British Empire for his service to the arts. An MBE is the lowest rank in order of chivalry established by King George V in 1917. Shonibare accepted the title with the appropriate irony, choosing to use it at all times and referring to himself " a commoner with an MBE". Even the artist's name is now a part of his deeply layered work.

Read More In Musée No. 5 Vol. 2

Images Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York 

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