Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- Yinka Shonibare explores race, identity, and colonialism through sculpture, photography, painting, and film.
- The sculpture Eleanor Hewitt, is a portrait of a 19th-century art patron who traveled throughout Europe extensively.
- The headless figure is supported on stilts and dressed in a late-Victorian era dress of Dutch wax cloth. She personifies concepts of colonialism and power.
- Dutch wax cloth is popular throughout Africa. It has a complicated history, and can be seen as a metaphor for multilayered identities.
Eleanor Hewitt is a portrait of a 19th-century art patron who traveled throughout Europe extensively. The objects she collected with her sister are now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. The headless figure is supported on stilts and dressed in a late-Victorian era dress of Dutch wax cloth.
Towering above us, she personifies imperialism and a colonial legacy that left a sober imprint throughout the world.
Yinka Shonibare is known for his sculptural figures dressed in 19th-century-period outfits, which function as satirical post-colonial commentary. Of the Dutch wax cloth worn by figures such as Eleanor Hewitt, Shonibare says:
“The fabrics I use also look like they could be just African, because they are used a lot there. But what you see on the surface is not really what you always get. The fabric has a complicated history in its trade routes: It was originally designed as an Indonesian fabric, produced by the Dutch, and the British sold it into the African market. It’s a perfect metaphor for multilayered identities.”
Shonibare’s work often disrupts and challenges notions of cultural identity. His work explores power, examines critical parts of western civilization (both achievements and failures), and creates intersections between diverse histories and cultures.
Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA)
The artist’s website includes his biography, press, exhibitions, and archived artwork.
Animated and narrated video about Yinka Shonibare’s life and artwork.
Webpage with Shonibare’s biography, videos, artwork, and news articles.
Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)