A while back the family went to have look in Little Narnia (no, really) and saw something that has stayed with us since then. It was a family trip to the YSP and we'd been a few times before. As we move to decorate the house with images and pictures that mean something to all of us Tilly suggested we get a few of these images in frames and hang them up. As I happen to share Tilly's love of these images and the artist, but for very different reasons (well, some of them are similar, we are both historians after all), I readily agreed.
The images are, of course, from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park installation by Yinka Shonibare MBE. We went along originally because the YSP was a favourite haunt of the children's, hence the moniker 'Little Narnia', and we weren't really expecting much from the main exhibition by this oddly named artist that I, naively, assumed must be pretentious and female. Not so. We were somewhat wowed by the use fabric and dress to evoke a time that both of us ought to find pleasantly familiar but that made me feel rather challenged. And I like it when art challenges me to think in new ways. As you can probably remember actually.
|A Bull market?|
|Terrible beauty that I would so like to wear|
Take these biting satires on the role of women and the powerful in the Regency and, by extension, in modern society as an example. He invokes the fantasy setting of a well maintained garden, clearly gentry owned and thus rich, aloof and powerful in a political sense. And he shows the baseness of the emotions associated with it. There are a number of pieces like this, with men taking women, women taking women and, interestingly, no women taking men. In the small amount of reading about them that I've done Shonibare says they speak about power relationships in the modern world as well as the historical world that he suggests with the dress styles and the way in which they are posed. Certainly it makes sense that, in the modern world, there are no women taking men from behind. Indeed, it very much a man's world now in a way that, beyond the gates of the ancestral piles and stately homes of the eighteenth century, it wasn't quite yet at the time. Obviously men were on the rise following the Enlightenment and Renaissance but women weren't quite pushed out of ordinary life and ordinary positions of influence and power just yet, that would have to wait until the Industrial Revolution kicked off in earnest. Given the proximity of that event to the period depicted one has to wonder if that wasn't a consideration for Shonibare as well.
|Also, the noise from the water as you|
looked around the whole room with
these things in plays an interesting
I was also very taken with the Four Elements where each element was personified in a different way. The man representing fire with a gas lamp for a head with a stance that suggests he has been surprised by an idea that, with a gas lamp for a head, he must have had. Or the water man who is pouring a drink that he can never have because his head is the tap that pours the water (and, ominously, has an Indian complexion). Or the woman struggling against a high wind for a representation of air, her dress wrapped against her legs and her body bowed against the pressure of the wind that blows in her face meaning that she must struggle against the tide. I love the parallel to Feminism, whether or not he meant it, and the way that there is the intersectionality of oppression hinted at with the pigmentation of the skin on this one (Shonibare ought to know, he's black and increasingly disabled). The one that really brought this home to me, though, was the one for earth. In which we have a figure in a posture reminiscent of strength and power in clothing that is all in 'earthy' tones and a deliberately vague pigmentation that could be anyone and anywhere. More to the point, the generally male figure has breasts and is wearing a long dress over a pair of trousers, which I love as a comment on how the Earth ought to be.
|You see what I mean?|
If you haven't, he's worth checking out. So is the YSP!