British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare experiments with various materials such as photography, installation art, sculptures and video, but is most well known for his installations featuring mannequins. The vibrant colors and patterns used are instantly recognizable as African. However, is this so? This is an important question that the artist intends to impose on ethnic identity.
The fabric used by the artist is called Batic, which is not indigenous to Africa. It is traditionally from Indonesia, which was mass produced in the Netherlands and the UK during colonial role and exported to Africa via the Netherlands. Initially Dutch merchants had intended to sell to Indonesia but did not sell well. This was why they sent to West Africa, which became an instant hit. Africans loved the vibrant and bold design, which became recognized as the signature African style to other people around the world. The Netherlands remains the largest exporter of Batic today. In other words, Batic, traditionally viewed as uniquely African, was created in modern times during colonial rule against complex historical and cultural paradox.
This piece is also a satire of the war-like world we live in. Headless symbolizes absence of reason and thought. Conflict and war are inevitable in a world filled with unilateral views and blind belief. The artist says that war is the act of blowing your counterpart’s head as well as your own, which creates fatal damage to both sides. In other words, there is no such thing as winners in wars.