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HMS Victory returns to Trafalgar Square

24 May 2010

Yinka Shonibare’s Fourth Plinth Ship Unveiled Today

Artwork Sparks Tate Debate on Multiculturalism and the Arts

The new commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, by leading Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, is unveiled today, 24 May 2010, the eve of Africa Unity Day, at 09:30am.

Commissioned by the Mayor of London and supported by Arts Council England with sponsorship from Guaranty Trust Bank of Nigeria and additional funding from the Henry Moore Foundation, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle is a scale replica of HMS Victory (1:30) in a bottle, measuring 4.7m in length and 2.8m in diameter.

The artwork is the first commission on the Fourth Plinth to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, and links directly with Nelson’s column. It is also the first commission by a black British artist.

The ship's 37 large sails are made of richly patterned textiles commonly associated with African dress and symbolic of African identity and independence. Tying together historical and global threads, the work considers the legacy of British colonialism and its expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas and new trade routes that Nelson’s victory provided.

Yinka Shonibare said: "London is such a diverse community, and art is a fantastic way to engage everyone regardless of race, class or gender.  It is particularly great that this piece is an expression of Nelson's legacy, a legacy which has contributed to the diversity of this city."

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said:

"Yinka Shonibare's sculpture is the work of an artist at the top of his game. The Fourth Plinth is about enigma and this will be a national conversation piece - people will ask what it says, is it pro-empire, is it anti-empire? This colourful and quirky take on our seafaring heritage provides a vivid contrast that intensifies the historic surroundings of Trafalgar Square. As with the times, it's a vibrant coalition bringing together the traditional and the contemporary, showing London to be creative and forward looking."

To coincide with the unveiling of the new artwork, Tate Britain will host a debate, tomorrow, (25 May, 18.30–20.00), exploring the legacy and impact of multiculturalism in the context of the arts in Britain today. Is multiculturalism a spent force that promotes cultural disharmony? What does multiculturalism mean in a context of globalisation and ‘superdiversity’? What does it mean to be British in the 21st century? Speakers will include Kwame Kwei-Armah (Actor, playwright, broadcaster), Yinka Shonibare (Artist), Munira Mirza (Advisor to Mayor of London for Arts and Culture), Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Columnist), Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive, RSA).

Ekow Eshun, Chair, The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group said: "We are absolutely delighted that Yinka Shonibare has accepted the commission and has produced such a compelling and timely response. This is an artwork that reflects on big themes of history, memory and identity with fantastic elegance.  I'll be thrilled to see it on show at the heart of London when it is unveiled today."

Tayo Aderinokun, Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank said: "We are extremely proud to be associated with the first African artist to exhibit in such as iconic, public location as Trafalgar Square. Guaranty Trust Bank has a reputation for promoting African art and we are very pleased to be the first African corporation to sponsor art in Britain. Yinka’s unique artwork has additional resonance for us given that our sponsorship coincides with the celebration of Nigeria’s 50th year of independence."

Moira Sinclair, London Executive Director at Arts Council England said: "Yinka's artwork looks through a historic lens to celebrate contemporary London as a truly global city. It directly reflects on its setting and will provide a perfect counterpoint for Nelson and we hope everyone will enjoy the piece on the plinth."

Kwame Kwei-Armah said: "Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle explores pertinent questions about multiculturalism and identity in contemporary culture. I am looking forward to engaging with Yinka tomorrow at Tate Britain where we will debate the relevance of the concept of multiculturalism and what it means to be British today."

Lt Cdr DJ Oscar Whild RN, Commanding Officer of HMS Victory said: "It is very fitting that the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square is now adorned with this superb sculpture of HMS Victory in a bottle. This magnificent work completes the link between Trafalgar Square and The Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s Column and now HMS Victory. As Nelson’s Flagship at the battle, HMS Victory played a key role in the events of that famous day and I am very pleased to see that reflected here in this sculpture."

Further responses from writers and cultural figures are enclosed in the accompanying press pack.

Monday 24 May 2010

Press Enquiries:

Erica Bolton/ Tamsin Selby, Bolton & Quinn, 020 7221 5000 or

Ben McKnight, Greater London Authority, 020 7983 4071,

To download broadcast-quality B-roll footage of the unveil, please visit:

This content will be available to download from 15.30pm GMT, 24 May 2010

To download the internet-ready video clip (.mov and .wmv formats) please visit:

This content will be available to download from 16.00pm GMT, 24 May 2010.

Message in a Bottle: Debating Multiculturalism and the Arts

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 18.30–20.00

Tate Britain Clore Auditorium

£5 (£3 concessions), booking recommended

For tickets book online or call 020 7887 8888