Yinka Shonibare steps into the curator’s seat with a sharp survey of African art

Yinka Shonibare steps into the curator’s seat with a sharp survey of African art

Mayfair gallerist Stephen Friedman has represented British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare for 22 years. Together they have grown to become linchpins of the British art scene, with Friedman having dedicated six solo shows to his Turner Prize-winning friend.

Their latest exhibition, entitled ‘Talisman in the Age of Difference’, celebrates Shonibare as curator. Sticking to themes close to his heart – identity politics, African resistance, the civil rights movement – Shonibare has selected 46 artists of African origin and from across the diaspora for the show, and placed paintings alongside sculpture and drawings spanning the early 20th century to present day.

Installation view of ‘Talisman in the Age of Difference’. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photography: Mark Blower

Big guns such as American sculptor Melvin Edwards and Kehinde Wiley (whose 2017 portrait of Barack Obama was the first of any US President by an African-American) appear alongside lesser-known names such as Lagos-based Temitayo Ogunbiyi, who is transforming former land fill sites in the Nigerian city into childrens’ play parks, and Whitfield Lovell, who creates exquisite charcoal drawings of African-American faces and surrounds them with timeworn, everyday objects.

‘Most people know Yinka as an artist but fewer know him as a curator,’ says Friedman, who was inspired to host the exhibition after seeing Shonibare’s curatorial skills at work at last year’s Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. ‘A talisman is thought to possess transformative energy, like a lucky charm, a fetish, amulet, mascot or juju,’ he adds. ‘All the work, either consciously or subconsciously, has a subversive or political message and doesn’t necessarily conform to the Western vision of art. Like Yinka, all the artists in the show view their work as talismans, or vehicles for change.’

Shonibare adds, ‘At a time when the extreme right is on the rise, a strong statement like this will resonate beyond the exhibition. ‘It’s important we show our diversity; we sing, we dance, we perform rituals and we want to share them with everybody.’ §

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