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Yinka Shonibare: class act with a dash of gallows humour


There's mischief in Yinka Shonibare's eyes when he says that he wants money and power. "Don't you? Isn't that what everyone wants," he chuckles. It's difficult to know if he's joking or not, and this interplay between seriousness and humour extends to his art.

He presents sobering ideas about colonialism, power and class with a sense of fun and a light touch, which have made him popular. His work Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, commissioned for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, recently went on permanent show in the National Maritime Museum after a public campaign.

New work to be exhibited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park explores recent conflicts: the Arab spring, and the London riots. Revolution Kids are hybrid figures, half human half fox, wearing clothes made from Shonibare's signature batik fabric. They carry BlackBerry phones, which refers to the use of social media during the London riots, and a replica of Colonel Gaddafi's golden gun. There's a sense of fun and fantasy within the work, though they refer to serious events.

"Class is quite central to my interest and I play with it in different ways. The unfairness of one class, how we want to get from one class to another, how revolutionaries become the next dictators," he says.

More subtle are his new outdoor sculptures, which will stand in the grounds of the park. Called Wind Sculptures, they are six metres high, giant sails hand-painted with a batik design. Made from resin, they ripple, as though in the wind.

Subtlety is not such a consideration in another batch of new work titled POP!, at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, which presents the excesses of bankers with a series of headless hybrid figures swigging from champagne bottles, around a re-enactment of The Last Supper.

There's a sense of theatre in Shonibare's work; he sees himself in the tradition of British satire, extending back to William Hogarth. "It's gallows humour," he says.

Shonibare was awarded an MBE in 2005, and has since incorporated it into his name. "I admire the establishment and want to be part of it. But I also want to be a pain in the arse to them as well.'

Yinka Shonibare MBE: FABRIC-ATION, Yorkshire Sculpture Park (ysp.co.uk) 2 March to 1 September. Yinka Shonibare MBE: POP!, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, W1 (stephenfriedman.com) 16 March to 20 April