Yinka Shonibare’s compelling work End of Empire explores issues of colonialism and conflict.

The piece was originally commissioned by Turner Contemporary and 14-18 NOW, the UK arts programme set up to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Two of Shonibare’s signature mannequins sit opposite each other astride a seesaw. The figures are dressed in 19thcentury-style costumes made from the highly patterned fabrics that feature in much of Shonibare’s work. These fabrics have their origins in Dutch colonial Indonesia, and were later adopted by textile makers in Holland and exported to Dutch and BritishWest and Central Africa in the 19th century. The fabrics are nowadays seen by Ghanaians and Nigerians as quintessentially African, thereby becoming a metaphor in Shonibare’s work for the complex layers and effects of European colonialism.

The heads of the mannequins take the form of globes, which represent the two opposing sides in the war: Britain, France and their allies are shaded on one globe, and Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire on the other. The colonial territories of both sides are likewise shaded on the globes. The seesaw swings slowly, suggesting the pace of progress towards the end of empire.

Shonibare is a British-born Nigerian artist, renowned for his work exploring themes of colonialism and globalisation. He studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art and Goldsmiths, and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004.

End of Empire has now been jointly acquired by Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery as part of the legacy of 14-18 NOW.


Commission for 14-18 NOW.2016, Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK2017, MAC/VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine, France2018, Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea, Wales

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