The artwork is the first commission on the Fourth Plinth to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, and will link directly with Nelson’s column. It is also the first commission by a black British artist.
The ship’s 37 large sails are made of exuberant and richly patterned textiles commonly associated with African dress and symbolic of African identity and independence. The history of the fabric reveals that they were inspired by Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch and sold to the colonies in West Africa. Tying together historical and global threads and traversing Oceans and Continents, the work considers the complexity of British expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson’s victory provided.
Yinka Shonibare says his piece will reflect the story of multiculturalism in London:
Shonibare has exhibited in leading museums worldwide and participated in seminal exhibitions such as: Sensation, Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997); 49th Venice Biennial, Venice, Italy (2001); Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany (2002); Double Dress, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel, touring; Africa Remix, various venues (2005-06) and Check-List Luanda Pop, African Pavilion, 52nd Venice Biennial (2007).