Yinka Shonibare: Magic Ladders in The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and More

15 Jan 2014


Philadelphia students viewing Yinka Shonibare's, Scramble for Africa, 2004. Photo courtesy of The Barnes Foundation.

The Barnes Foundation's Center-funded exhibition, Yinka Shonibare: Magic Ladders, was highlighted in The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, W Magazine, CBS Philly, and WHYY's Newsworks. The exhibition opened January 24 and runs through April 21.

Priscilla Frank of The Huffington Post writes: "In his newest exhibition, Magic Ladders, Shonibare focuses his attention on European art and intellectual history and their relationship to colonialism, slavery and identity." Raised back and forth between the UK and Nigeria, "Shonibare's outsider status led him to gravitate toward the peculiar and fixate on others' desires to order their world using stereotypes. Stereotypes, along with tensions between identity and stereotype, authenticity and costume, guide Shonibare's artistic practice." Read more >

On Shonibare's unique collaboration with the Barnes, Carol Kino of the Wall Street Journal writes: "Shonibare wasn't an expert on the Barnes Foundation when (chief curator Judith F.) Dolkart first approached him (although he was aware of the controversy surrounding its relocation). After researching the man behind it, though, he saw a connection. 'The revelation,' Shonibare recalls, came when he realized that he and Barnes shared the same love of learning. 'Barnes knew that education could emancipate people,' he says." The ladders referred to in the title of the exhibition "—their rungs made from facsimiles of books—are intended to soar into the air apparently unsupported, as child-size figures, each with a globe where its head should be, clamber up to the sky. The point, Shonibare explains, is to promote the feeling that 'you're moving beyond your own limits by acquiring knowledge'—a gravity-defying ascent that couldn't possibly be conveyed by something leaning against a wall," writes Kino. Read more >

Michael Slenske of W Magazine writes that Shonibare, "who first showed his work in Philadelphia a decade ago...knew little about the Barnes Foundation until he received this commission three years ago (the Foundation's first since founder Dr. Albert C. Barnes commissioned Matisse in 1930)." Read more >

Tom Rickert of CBS Philly spoke with Barnes curator Judith Dolkart about the exhibition's connection with Dr. Barnes' ideology. "'For this work, Shonibare was very much interested in themes of enlightenment and education, opportunity and social mobility, all issues which were of interest to Dr. Barnes. He created a work that really relates to Barnes himself. The rungs of these ladders are constructed of books, and the titles of the books are all derived from Barnes' own library. So most of them have titles related to art history, and each ladder has a child climbing up, furthering the idea that education brings opportunity, an ability to rise. That's something that Barnes very much believed in. This show, in many ways, through its exploration of identity and social mobility, enlightenment, touches on the core mission of the Barnes,'" Dolkart said. Read more >

On the work Shonibare is making specifically for the Barnes, Peter Crimmins of WHYY's Newsworks writes: "Most of his work involves mannequins—headless, to strip them of racial identify—dressed in Enlightenment-era clothes cut from quasi-African fabrics [...] Shonibare's newer works have been focused on children. Unlike their adult counterparts without heads, these mannequins of boys and girls have heads made of globe-shaped star charts. The three newly commissioned works are 'Magic Ladders,' in which these children are climbing ladders made of books from Albert Barnes' personal library. The rungs are wooden recreations of early 20th-century art tomes about Degas, Picasso, Goya, Rubens, written in German, French, Spanish, and Italian. A nod to Barnes' other prominent passion, Shonibare included 'Cassell's Guide to Gardening'". Read more >