THEMATIC: Beauty and Zeitgeist

"Black Gold II," 2006. Acrylic paint on wall, acrylic on 25 Dutch wax printed cotton canvases, 130 x 265 inches overall, canvas dimensions variable. Photo by Stephen White © Yinka Shonibare MBE. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Beauty has many functions in art. Yinka Shonibare's work uses beauty to engage the viewer, as well as to prompt questions about what the work is about. Shonibare's work incorporates colorful and seductive elements, such as fabrics and ornaments, that often have multilayered historical meanings. In his Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, he says, "Artworks that look too much like propaganda scare people, and people just become defensive." Watch the artist's segment, and discuss how Shonibare employs beauty as a way to explore and critique timely or controversial events.

Compare the way Yinka Shonibare considers the role of beauty in his work to the approaches of other artists, including: Kara Walker, Lari Pittman, Josiah McElheny, and Ida Applebroog.

SEGMENT: Yinka Shonibare MBE in "Transformation"

Before Viewing
How is beauty defined? Why might beauty be important to society and culture? In what ways are notions of beauty different within different cultures, and in what ways are they similar?

While Viewing
Select works of art in which Shonibare uses beauty to introduce viewers to specific issues and themes. Identify which elements of beauty engage the viewer. How do they relate to the issues and themes that Shonibare presents?

After Viewing
When referring to some drawings that he made in response to economical and social issues, Shonibare says that his work is about capturing the zeitgeist, or social climate of the moment. What do you think he means? In what ways do the works Black Gold and Scramble for Africa address an historic or contemporary climate?

Describing the fabrics he uses in his sculptures, Shonibare says: "I like the fact that the fabrics are multilayered. They have this interesting history that goes back to Indonesia. And then they're appropriated by Africa and now represent African identities. Things are not always what they seem." How might this statement change the viewer's understanding of the work? How does Shonibare play with appearances to challenge the audience's assumptions?

"Scramble for Africa," 2003. 14 life-size fiberglass mannequins, 14 chairs, table, and Dutch wax printed cotton, overall 52 x 192 1/10 x 110 1/5 inches overall. Commissioned by the Museum of African Art, Long Island City, New York. Collection of The Pinnell Collection, Dallas. Photo by Stephen White. © Yinka Shonibare MBE. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Assemble a collection of political cartoons that describe the cultural climate of the moment. Use the images as inspiration, to create an original cartoon representing your own perspective about the current political or social climate.