Garden of Love, created by Yinka Shonibare, MBE
2 april – 8 july 2007
Created for the Musée du quai Branly by Yinka Shonibare, MBE, a London artist of Nigerian origin, Garden of Love takes its inspiration from French-style gardens, and invites the public to undertake a journey filled with surprises. In the ‘garden’ – amidst foliage, fountains and groves – visitors come upon a strange ballet of love… Yinka Shonibare reflects here upon identity and upon history, at the meeting of the two cultures to which he belongs.
the Artist and His Work
The artist Yinka Shonibare is of Nigerian origin but was born in 1962 in London, where he now lives and works. He began to address the question of identity when, as a student, it was suggested that he express more of his origins in his work. At first, Shonibare played around by juxtaposing of images of objects from the British Museum with household appliances, challenging viewers to place them in one perspective or the other.
At the beginning of the 1990s, he started using African fabrics in lieu of canvas. He then took the process a step further by introducing “wax print” fabric into the Victorian world, using it to clothe the middle classes, which he represented by headless dummies. In the installation Victorian Philanthropists Parlour (1996-1997), presented during the 2005 Africa Remix exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Shonibare imitated British fashion by replicating the interior decoration of the times. Furniture and decoration were carefully chosen to reflect the era. He then covered the walls and furniture in African fabrics, introducing the reality of colonialism that empowered the British bourgeoisie.
Shonibare evokes the idea of authenticity, reminding his audience that the fabric was manufactured in 18th century Britain for the West-African market; he then invalidates the historical reference recalled through textile by adding images of football players…
As Shonibare was recently awarded the prestigious title of “Member of the British Empire,” he has added the acronym MBE to his name. It’s one more way of underlining the ironies of history.
Shonibare’s private exhibitions include:
2002: “Yinka Shonibare”, Studio Museum, New York.
2003: “Play with Me”, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
2004: “Yinka Shonibare”, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam.
The musée du quai Branly is attributing an important role to contemporary creation. This is the first art installation exhibited in the Garden gallery, an area dedicated to temporary exhibitions.
Fragonard Revisited: Between Humour and Subversion
Yinka Shonibare’s “Garden of Love” exhibition inextricably links the artist’s two cultures of origin, leading us to reflect on the issues of identity and history.
It is the continuation of a project that the artist began when the Tate Modern acquired Fragonard’s L'escarpolette and represents a parody of rococo imagery in the form of a “garden of love.” It recreates the theme of a labyrinth and the playful game of discovery in the three love scenes on the itinerary.
The musée du quai Branly installation presents three groups that mirror the composition of Fragonard’s series of paintings, “The Progress of Love,” originally made for the home of Madame du Barry in Louveciennes:
- The Pursuit (1770)
- The Love Letters (between 1770 and 1773)
- The Lover Crowned (between 1770 and 1773)
The figures are arranged so that they conform to the spirit of the gardens of the era: their codes, layout and vegetation.
The figures, in fact, are life-sized headless dummies dressed in 18th century fashions but with the “wax print” fabrics that modern Africans treasure.
The non-aggressive and witty way in which Yinka Shonibare treats his subject makes the anachronism is all the more troubling. Behind the humour lies the insidious violence of a cold indictment.
The installation underscores the idea that the slave trade encouraged the carefree, libertine, free-spirited and opulent lifestyle associated with the French aristocracy. In the thought-provoking words of the artist: “there is always a price for your pleasure.”
It also establishes an underlying relationship between the desire to control nature, expressed in the art of gardening in the 18th century, and the desire to “civilise the savages.”
It also questions the consequences of colonialism in today’s world, in particular concerning the Diaspora.
Exhibition curator: Germain VIATTE
Scientific director: Bernard MÜLLER
Project manager: Hélène CERUTTI
Architect: Régis GUIGNARD (agence Méristème)