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Yinka Shonibare MBE

Ship in a bottle

24 May 2010 - 30 January 2012

Ship in a bottle

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 will link 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 exuberant and richly patterned textiles commonly associated with African dress and symbolic of African identity and independence. The history of the fabric reveals that they were inspired by Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch and sold to the colonies in West Africa. Tying together historical and global threads and traversing Oceans and Continents, the work considers the complexity of British expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson’s victory provided.

Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle was commissioned by the Mayor of London and supported by Arts Council England and The Henry Moore Foundation with sponsorship from Guaranty Trust Bank Artist biography Yinka Shonibare, MBE was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art and in 2004 was nominated for the Turner Prize. In 2005, Shonibare was awarded an MBE. Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, most recently, film. His signature material is the brightly coloured ‘African’ fabric he buys at Brixton market.

In 2010, the ArtFund successfully ran a campaign to bring the Ship in a Bottle to its permanent home at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.