Yinka Shonibare MBE | Yinka's music playlist

British-born Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1962) works across diverse artistic media to explore ideas about African contemporary identity and the legacy of European colonialism in the present. Shonibare's art considers social class and aesthetics, and is characterized by recurring visual symbols such as "Dutch wax" fabric since the mid-1990s. This exhibition presents 14 years of the artist's career, encompassing painting, sculpture, large-scale mixed-media installations, photography and film.

Originally introduced in place of canvas for Shonibare's paintings, Dutch wax fabric is rich with meaning for the artist. Inspired by Indonesian batiks and produced in Europe for the West African market in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it has come to symbolize for Shonibare the complex web of economic and racial interactions--and interdependencies--between Europe, Asia and Africa.

Shonibare's sculptural works often feature headless mannequins clothed in elaborate costumes from the period just before the French Revolution, when the European aristocracy controlled vast wealth, land and power. Referencing art history and the paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard in particular, with their depictions of luxury and privilege, Shonibare's sculptural tableaux portray idyllic, romanticized narratives as well as imagined scenarios of sexual decadence and violence.

Shonibare has created two major suites of photographs alongside his paintings and sculptures, drawing inspiration from Oscar Wilde's literary creation Dorian Gray and the idea of the Victorian social aspirant or "dandy." In both instances Shonibare takes on the role of the central character, emulating their poses and attire. A third, more recent series focuses on the 18th-century Enlightenment era and ideas about rationality versus irrationality.

Shonibare has recently expanded his focus to embrace the moving image, creating vast, cinematic tableaux of sumptuous color and heightened drama. In Un Ballo in Maschera Shonibare recreates, with elaborate Dutch wax ball gowns and frock coats, the late 18th-century masked ball in which Swedish King Gustav III was assassinated. His most recent film, inspired by Swan Lake, features two ballerinas who face each other on either side of a gilded frame and move in unison, as though reflected in single form before a vast mirror.

Shonibare was awarded a Member of Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2005, an award that he accepted with some irony, given the critical focus of his work for over a decade. He has chosen to adopt this title at all times, using it as a "platform" from which to explore further the colonial legacy, class structure and social justice issues that remain in the country he calls his home.

Yinka Shonibare MBE is organized and toured by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia. The exhibition is curated by Rachel Kent.

Exhibition partner, Qantas Airways

Support for the Washington, D.C., venue is provided by Chevron and Nex Rubica Group.

Yinka's Music playlist

Kanye West, Celebration
Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
La Roux
Jill Scott
Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata
Giacomo Puccini, Turandot, performed by Maria Callas
Fela Kuti, Zombie