Corruption, Excess and Debauchery: Yinka Shonibare’s POP! Exibition


We visited the Stephen Friedman Gallery in Mayfair to view Yinka Shonibare’s POP! Exibition. The British born Nigerian artist is known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism, most of Shonibare’s work looks at the relationship between Africa and Europe, with focus on the integration between the two cultures and their economic and political histories.

POP!  is described as a raucous celebration of decadence and debauchery, with focus being on the corruption and excess which caused the recent economic crisis in the west. The first half of the exhibition is shown within two rooms, with one room displaying inebriated figures in drunken poses holding bottles of Cristal. The heads of each figure is represented as a globe, which display some of the major contributors to the recent economic crisis, referencing the likes of Lehman Brothers, Greece, Iceland.

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The centre piece of the exhibition is the portrayal of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’.Shonibare replaces the central figure of Jesus with Bacchus, also known as Dionysus, who in Greek mythology was the Roman God of wine, ritual madness and ecstasy, which some could say reflects the behaviour which contributed to the recent economic crisis. Bacchus is represented as a character who is half goat half man, surrounded by 12 disciples who are displayed in various sexual and untowards poses, using Shonibare’s traditional headless figures and African print Batik material.

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The second half of the exhibition displayed across the road exhibits pieces which are deliberately brash and exorbitant in reference to Shonibare’s ‘Toy Paintings’ ,the installation consists of several round fabric canvases framed by toy jewel encrusted dollar signs, handbags and high heels, knives and guns, and iconic logos such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel. The centre piece in this part of the exhibition is the male mannequin holding an exploding magnum of champagne. Displayed in a pose which has been described as a simulation of masturbation, the figure boasts a pot belly, which although linked with over  indulgence, is often seen as a sign of wealth within some African cultures.


The last room displays three Andy Warhol inspired self-portraits of Shonibare on canvas, using traditional African print. Yinka Shonibare MBE explores how some segments of contemporary society have come to worship luxury, displaying how wealth and excess have almost come to replace religion and morality within modern-day society.

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Described as Yinka Shonibare’s most ambitious work of late, the POP Exhibition will be showing at the Stephen Friedman Gallery from the 16th March 2013 until the 20th April 2013.

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