Yinka Shonibare and the Notre Dame Forum 2021
Through December 11, 2021
Timed to coincide with the University of Notre Dame Forum 2021–22, “Care for Our Common Home: Just Transition to a Sustainable Future,” the Museum is honored to announce the acquisition and premier presentation of Earth Kid, 2020, a major sculpture by Yinka Shonibare. There is little doubt that the Nigerian-British Shonibare CBE is among the most compelling international figures in Contemporary art. His work is exhibited and eagerly collected around; in his artistic practice, Shonibare engages a myriad of timely issues ranging from cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonial cultures, race, and disabilities.
In Earth Kid, the artist explores the themes of climate change, fragile global environments, and the role of youth in attempting to save the planet. Shonibare’s repertoire, especially recent examples, is in great sympathy with the 2021 Notre Dame Forum and Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. In the encyclical, the Holy Father states, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
Since the early 2000s, Shonibare has developed an iconic body of work that addresses compelling social and political issues. In all his work, the use of the brightly pattern Dutch batik cloth, known as Ankara fabric, signals the complex relationships of Europe and Nigeria (and Africa at large), colonialism, and post-colonial culture. As a sculptor, most of Shonibare’s figures remain headless in order to emphasize the universal over the individual. In Earth Kid he has chosen to use a globe, manipulated to underscore the international dimensions of global culture. In the work, the Earth is singed to symbolize the crisis of global drought.
Although Shonibare has addressed the pressing theme of climate change and the fragilities of the environment in the past, Earth Kid is a youthful figure rather than an adult. In doing so, the artist emphasizes the role of youth across the world to combat global excess, geographic and cultural inequalities, and climate change. The significance of the focus on youth in a university setting cannot be understated as their work, present and future, is inextricably linked to the health of our planet.
Through Forum 2021–22, the University of Notre Dame seeks to highlight a transition to a cleaner future where the burdens of change are equitably borne and not simply sloughed off to the poor and powerless. “The question is not whether to transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future, but how and how quickly,” Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame, has said. “As a university community whose work is the education of the next generation who will inherit these challenges, and as one with a Catholic mission calling us to seek justice and serve the common good around the globe, we turn to these urgent and complex questions.” In the context of a Museum display, masters like Shonibare visually distill such questions for visitors of every age and experience to consider.
Yinka Shonibare, CBE, RA (British-Nigerian, b. 1962)
Earth Kid (Boy), 2020
Fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, globe, brass, steel baseplate, netted bag, and found objects
Walter R. Beardsley Endowment for Contemporary Art