Yinka Shonibare's HMS Victory in a Bottle to be installed on Fourth Plinth

By Culture24 Staff | 11 February 2010
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A photo of a man standing next to an art installation involving a miniature replica of a shape inside a large glass bottle

Former Turner Prize winner Yinka Shonibare's Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, a miniature replica of HMS Victory in a bottle, will begin a two-year residency on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square on the morning of May 24 2010.

The successor to Antony Gormley's One and Other, a Big Brother-style project in which members of the public took to the Plinth for an hour each in a continuously revolving display of living statues, continues the Anglo-Nigerian artist’s form for thought-provoking retakes on major historical events.

It features 37 large sails coloured with African patterns based on Indonesian batiks sold by the Dutch to West African merchants, tying together themes of colonialism, trade and globalization.

"I was really thinking about the history of the place – why is it called Trafalgar Square?" said Shonibare, whose work for the Turner included a decapitated, batik-clad woman and a cinematic dance re-enactment of the assassination of an 18th century Swedish King.

"Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar against Napoleon, and my generation in multicultural London is a consequence of that victory, so that's why I decided to look at the battleship he won that battle with."

"I decided to produce a replica of the ship but to change the sails into African textiles. There was a time when African people and artists were trying to become part of the mainstream - that's no longer the case."

"We make the mainstream, we define what it is, we are the children of independence. We are now in a way the makers of global contemporary culture. London is a dynamic centre for that."

A photo of a miniature ship inside a bottle on top of a white plinth

The scale replica is scheduled to inhabit the Plinth until 2012

Justine Simons, Fourth Plinth Director for the Greater London Authority, said the piece was "a wonderful evolution" of Shonibare's work.

"We all loved his proposal since the moment the box arrived on my desk and we opened up his drawings to reveal this magical idea," she reflected.

"The Fourth Plinth is critically about taking contemporary visual art out of a confined gallery space and into the public realm.

"People really feel that they own it and it's theirs. Some hate it, some love it - it's all part of the programme."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson called the installation "particularly timely", coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Nigerian independence and a major retrospective of work by fellow Nigerian descendent Chris Ofili at Tate Modern.

"It is a stunning work, with history and culture from West Africa to East Asia woven in its sails, much as the threads of those places and their people are woven in the fabric of the capital," he mused.

"This is clearly the work of an artist at the top of his game, and I'm sure Londoners will enjoy it greatly."

"For me it's a celebration of London¹s immense ethnic wealth," added Shonibare.

"A ship in a bottle is an object of wonder. I want to take this childhood sense of wonder and amplify it to match the monumental scale of Trafalgar Square."

Since November the spot has been temporarily occupied by a statue of Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park, described by Guardian critic Jonathan Jones as "an inane and empty image" in "the silly world of the Plinth" .

Photos courtesy James O Jenkins

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