Art / Sifting Swift


Yinka Shonibare’s latest Swift aping work is worthy of the great man himself, writes Eimear O’Reilly.

THE CURRENT INSTALLATION exhibited in the Hugh Lane Gallery certainly makes a huge impact. ‘Egg Fight’, by Yinka Shonibare MBE, is a large scale piece featuring two elegantly clad headless mannequins taking aim at each other through a wall of eggs.


This installation is one that cannot be ignored. It dominates the exhibition space within the Hugh Lane Gallery. Scale, colour and an apparent absurdity of subject are all immediate impressions. Yet on closer inspection the intricate detailing in the modelling of Shonibare’s figures bears some familiarity.

The artist crafts sumptuous fabrics from Dutch wax printed cotton and places the mannequins facing each other, rifles in hand. The familiarity stems from the style in which Shonibare portrays his figures; contrasting the soldier-like stance and Victorian dress with colourful ethnic prints. The juxtaposition of cultural identities is a recurring theme throughout Shonibare’s work. An immediate playful innocence to his art masks a more subversive dialogue on issues such as race, class and cultural identity. In ‘Egg Fight’ the inspiration lies in the literary classic – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

The main theme of the novel is a satirical view of human nature, more specifically, government, religion and corruption. Shonibare draws on the fictitious battles between Lilliput and Blefuscu over the religious question of egg breaking, symbolising religious differences between Protestant England and Catholic France.

In the novel, a person was judged on which end they broke their soft boiled eggs. The absurdity implied is narrated articulately in ‘Egg Fight’. It captures Swift’s satire and packages it in fantastical dimensions.

Yinka Shonibare was born in London and grew up in Nigeria, but later completed his education in England. He refers to himself as a ‘postcolonial hybrid’ and explores this concept in his work. Shonibare’s art encompasses a wide range of media, including sculpture, painting, photography, film and installation. His career spans from the early Nineties to the present, and his work has notably garnered him a Turner Prize nomination for the piece – ‘Double Dutch’.

Adopting a complex and unconventional approach, Shonibare lampoons the theory of achieving status through cultural authenticity. This is evident in his portfolio which includes a series of headless models and mannequins in various guises, and often incorporating his trademark use of African fabrics.

Even in his use of ethnic fabric, Shonibare is making a social commentary. The African fabrics used by the artist are in fact manufactured and exported from the United Kingdom.

This is true of the majority of African prints made today. It is these artificial constructs of identity and layering of cultural significance that Shonibare finds so intriguing. ‘Egg Fight’ reinstates these interests. The stylised postcolonial figures confuse our perceptions with the addition of the colourful African prints.

In addition to this installation, the Hugh Lane is also exhibiting a new series of large scale drawings by Shonibare, entitled ‘Climate Shit Drawings’. These works comprise collages on paper of ink drawings, printed textiles, newsprint and gold foil.

As with his installation, Shonibare’s drawings are visually appealing. The composition is quaint and the colours bright and cheerful. However, like his other work, the aesthetics merely draw you in to discover the artist’s subtle investigations of deeper themes.

Shonibare considers the impact of climate change and globalisation through the medium of print and textured symbolism. On display are aeroplanes, turbines, economic graphs, news headlines and flowers.

The contrast employed suggests a collision of economic and natural values. Both mediums employed in Shonibare’s exhibition show how multifaceted the artist can be when conveying his message. The works constantly inquire into the assumed meaning of cultural and social identity.

‘Egg Fight’ is a must see. It doesn’t bear the impenetrable elitism that can be so common amongst contemporary art pieces. Instead, this installation is instantly accessible and simultaneously engaging.

The addition of the drawings compliments and furthers Shonibare’s investigation into cultural traits. The result is an exhibition that stimulates the intellect whilst remaining a beautifully crafted work of art to behold.

Egg Fight is on display until 30th August.