It has been over a decade since Yinka Shonibare’s famous African-baroque installation, “The Swing (after Fragonard),” outfitted the Rococo’s quintessential coquette in–Mon Dieu!–African fabrics. True to form, the honorary knight and Turner-prize nominee continues his pointed investigations of race and geopolitics through juxtapositions of luscious batik fabrics and eighteenth century histrionics in a new show at James Cohan. Deliberately muddling signifiers of European and colonial cultures, Shonibare’s photographic “Fake Death” series are parodic sendups of academic history paintings. Henry Wallis’ “The Death of Chatterton,” François-Guillaume Ménageot’s “Death of Leonardo da Vinci,” and Bartolomé Carducho’s “The Death of St Francis” get the Shonibare treatment. Costumes are rendered in Arfo-Indonesian batik, and key subjects are played by black actors.
Post-colonial costume drama has become par for the course for Shonibare. New York Times critic Karen Rosenberg hinted at this in her lukewarm review of his 2009 survey at the Brooklyn Museum. The current show, however, does contain a few surprises, namely a bedazzled fetish slipper and two faithful reproductions of his and hers Victorian anti-masturbation devices. These beautiful and bizarre surrealist objects imply a new, more challenging direction for the established artist. Perhaps Shonibare’s perscription of languor and historicism will get a healthy dose of vitriol.
“Addio del Passato: Yinka Shonibare MBE” at James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th St, New York, Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm, through March 24. [See More]