The Open Arts Archive was very pleased to film a study day at Yorkshire Sculpture Park this weekend. ‘Contemporary Art and Textiles in West Africa’ was one of the events organised to coincide with Yinka Shonibare’s Fabric-ation exhibition running this summer.
The first part of this study day (‘African Textile, African Contemporary’) introduced participants to the textile heritage of Nigeria that Shonibare draws upon. It looked at the various forms of textile production in Nigeria, with specific reference to the Yoruba people. The diverse forms of weaving, dying and industrial production were examined. It then explored the significant place that textiles have in Yoruba culture, opening out the various traditions of use as well as looking at how those traditions have been brought forward into the twenty-first century, in areas of textile use such as masquerade, identity and religious practice as well as modern fashion and clothing. This revealed the complexities of notions of ‘African-ness’ as many of the textiles we now consider to be ‘African’ in fact have substantial European origins and influences. The colourful cloths featured in Shonibare’s exhibition are less popular, in Yoruba culture, than plain white cloth, which also has particular ritual or religious significance.
The title of the exhibition, ‘FABRIC-ATION’, plays on the role of fantasy in the cloths the artist has created. This highlights the extent to which Shonibare’s work sets up complex and often paradoxical notions of identity based on ideas of disguise and cultural hybridity, which are also common in aspects of so-called ‘British’ culture.
The second part of the day (‘African Contemporary, African Textile’) looked at the relationship between textiles and contemporary art in Nigeria, examining a number of artists who make use of textile traditions in their work. A substantial focus in this respect was on the issue of the ‘modern’ and the tensions that may arise for post-colonial artists who wish their art to be considered, under this heading, alongside that of their western counterparts.
Footage from the day will be available on www.openartsarchive.org shortly.