A new and culture-defining era has dawned at Sketch as it celebrates its 20th anniversary with the highly anticipated reincarnation of The Gallery restaurant at its famous venue on Conduit Street in London’s Mayfair.

Sketch’s long-standing and influential programme of artist restaurant collaborations continues with the acclaimed British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare and architect and designer India Mahdavi – the latter having originally reinvented The Gallery back in 2014, when her pink interiors were teamed with 245 artworks by David Shrigley – now transforming the space with a completely new installation of artworks and interiors.

Yinka Shonibare, Modern Magic (Studies of African Art from Picasso’s Collection) XIII, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Artwork from The Gallery restaurant at Sketch London
Yinka Shonibare, Modern Magic (Studies of African Art from Picasso’s Collection) XIII, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. 

The reimagining of The Gallery is a sea-change on the London restaurant scene, of which the pink room had become an iconic fixture, and Sketch founder Mourad Mazouz admits to having been apprehensive about changing such a successful space. He was determined, however, to take a bold step into the future. ‘I was introduced to Yinka Shonibare, and I thought, my God, the master himself wants to work with Sketch. It was like I was dreaming. Yinka’s work is so powerful, intelligent, and mythical, and I am so pleased to share it with Sketch’s visitors from all over the world.’

Mazouz asked Paris-based Mahdavi to redesign the imposing room. She says: ‘The pink gallery at Sketch lasted eight years instead of the two years initially planned – I like to say it’s the “Scheherazade” of interiors, which survived year after year thanks to its success. After such a long period, The Gallery had been identified with the colour pink and it was very challenging for me to reinvent what turned out to be an iconic space.’

Architect and interior designer India Mahdavi, who designed The Gallery at Sketch restaurant, London
Architect and designer India Mahdavi. Photography by Sabine Mirlesse. 

Renowned for her expert use of colour, Mahdavi chose a copper de Gournay wallpaper for the walls with custom-made banquette seating in shades of sunshine yellow. African craftspeople were invited to create unique pieces that complement the space; included are Senegalese fabrics produced by textile designer Aissa Dione, and exquisite handmade rattan wall lights by Inès Bressand, who works with weavers in Ghana. Sketch’s celebrated afternoon tea and dinner are served on new ceramic tableware designed for The Gallery by Shonibare and manufactured by British heritage brand Caverswall.

The effect of it all is simply beautiful – a calm yet stunning environment that is layered with opulent colour and texture, and bathed in golden light. Mahdavi explains that her design for The Gallery is a response to Shonibare’s work and says of its interiors: ‘These are elements that have allowed me to extend Yinka’s artistic exploration of culture and identity and bring a warm feel of Africa to the space and furnishings.’ 

portrait of artist Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare. Photograph courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts, London. 

Shonibare presents a magnificent celebration of African culture and its legacy with 13 works created for The Gallery in his distinctive signature aesthetic. Titled Modern Magic, the installation features hand-painted masks carved from wood, and framed quilts made using appliqué and embroidery techniques on richly hued textiles. They replicate African masks found in Pablo Picasso’s collection and their faces gaze through the warm copper glow of the room with a powerful presence.

The masks are modelled on those originally used by African peoples to conjure up new powers and realms. Western modernist artists were inspired by their spiritual force, which Shonibare has called upon to transform The Gallery at Sketch into a ‘third myth’ – a magical world where cultural exchange takes place freely.

Yinka Shonibare CBE, Modern Magic (Studies of African Art from Picasso’s Collection) XVIII , 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. © Stephen White & Co.jpg
Yinka Shonibare, Modern Magic (Studies of African Art from Picasso’s Collection) XVIII, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Says Shonibare: ‘After Matisse showed Picasso’s African art for the first time, it changed the history of modern art. Picasso was interested in appropriating from another culture, and I also appropriate from European ethnic art. Cultural appropriation can be a two-way street. This collaboration with Sketch has given me an opportunity to expand my creative process – creating a different environment to encounter and experience my art in a fun and relaxing setting.’

There is much to learn from the evolution of this important space, perhaps not least the understanding that we need not fear change, as Sketch continues to inspire visitors from all over the world with its visionary collaborations; and for those that still mourn the passing of the pink room, Sketch has thoughtfully recreated it as an enchanting scale model, with every detail lovingly represented, which is on display at Conduit Street. §