Since I heard that Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare's artwork was the next commission for the Fourth Plinth at London's Trafalgar Square, I've been itching to go and have a look at it. It was entirely impossible during the week, I simply could not squeeze out any daylight time to visit Trafalgar Square and yesterday was a typical bank-holiday-weekend Saturday, since it rained practically all day.
This morning I was on my way to church, but I made a detour and drove to Westminster with my fingers crossed, in the hope that I might find a place to park the car in order that I might physically walk unto the Trafalgar Square itself, take a close-up look at the artwork and perhaps some photos too. But it was not to be. Its interesting how on Sundays everybody in London suddenly becomes a tourist, especially when the sun is out. First of all, even those sky-rocket Westminster Council parking charges do not deter visitors, so of course, there was nowhere to park. Then the crowds! Right before my eyes as I sat in gridlocked traffic, I could see the mass of humanity emerging from the Underground and everywhere else, heading towards the square.
I soon realised that there was no hope whatsoever that I would accomplish my mission and still make it in time to church. So I pulled out the camera, as I sat in the car and took photos of the artwork while struggling to maintain control of the car. The photos that I've posted are the best ones... :)
What is important about this artwork is that it is the first commission on the Fourth Plinth to address the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square was built in the 1840s to commemorate the death of the great Admiral Horatio Nelson at the famous Battle of Trafalgar. Atop the tallest structure in the square is a statue of Nelson himself and this structure is known as Nelson's Column.
Within a shell of thick glass, Shonibare's ship is intended to depict Admiral Nelson's ship, HMS Victory, but the 37 sails of the ship-in-the-bottle are made of richly patterned traditional West African fabric, textiles that are commonly associated with African dress and symbolic of African identity and independence. According to the Fourth Plinth commissioners, "the history of the fabrics reveals that they were inspired by Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch [in Indonesia] and sold to the colonies in West Africa. The work therefore deals with the complexity of British expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson's victory provided."
This is the first work of public art by an African artist prominently displayed in a public place in the United Kingdom. When asked how he managed to get the ship inside the bottle, Shonibare would not tell. The work was sponsored by Guaranty Trust Bank, a Nigerian Bank.