HMS Victory returns to Trafalgar Square as Boris Johnson opens Yinka Shonibare's bottle

By Culture24 Staff | 24 May 2010
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a photograph of a large ship in a glass bottle on a stone plinth

(Above) Yinka Shonibare's Fourth Plinth visitor

London Mayor Boris Johnson has unveiled the latest commission for the Fourth Plinth by Yinka Shonibare.

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle is a 1:30 scale model of HMS Victory measuring 4.7 metres in length and is the first Fourth Plinth commission to reflect the historic symbolism of Trafalgar Square.

The ship is decorated with 37 large sails made from richly patterned African dress textiles, symbolic of African identity and independence.

a photograph of two men with a group of children holding toy boats

The Mayor of London
and Yinka Shonibare with schoolchildren from year
1 of St Paul's Church Of England Primary attend
the unveiling of the new Fourth Plinth commission Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare. Image © James O Jenkins

"London is such a diverse community, and art is a fantastic way to engage everyone regardless of race, class or gender," said Shonibare.

"It is particularly great that this piece is an expression of Nelson's legacy, a legacy which has contributed to the diversity of this city."

The work brings together historical and global threads and looks into the legacy of British colonialism and its expansion in trade and Empire that was made possible by the freedom of the seas that Nelson's victory provided.

a photograph of a large ship in a glass bottle on a stone plinth

Shonibare called the work "an expression of Nelson's legacy"

"Yinka Shonibare's sculpture is the work of an artist at the top of his game," said Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. "The Fourth Plinth is about enigma and this will be a national conversation piece - people will ask what it says, is it pro-empire, is it anti-empire?

"This colourful and quirky take on our seafaring heritage provides a vivid contrast that intensifies the historic surroundings of Trafalgar Square."

Nelson’s Victory is now based at the historic dockyard in Portsmouth and has a dual role as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command and as a living museum to the Georgian navy.

Lieutenant Commander DJ Oscar Whild, the Commanding Officer of HMS Victory, was on hand to applaud the "magnificent work", claiming it "completes the link" between the Square, the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson's Column and the ship.

"As Nelson's flagship at the battle, HMS Victory played a key role in the events of that famous day," he pointed out. "I am very pleased to see that reflected here in this sculpture."

Bottle images © Yinka Shonibare, MBE and courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery (London) and James Cohan Gallery (New York). Courtesy Stephen White

Watch the video of the installation:

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