Yinka Shonibare ‘Wind Sculpture’ installed on Rose Kennedy Greenway
Last week, the Rose Kennedy Greenway installed its latest public art commission, “Wind Sculpture (SG) V” by Yinka Shonibare. The 22-foot-tall sculpture, which will be on view for a year, features Shonibare’s signature batik-style bright print and represents themes of colonialism and cross-cultural exchange.
Shonibare’s “Wind Sculpture” series grew out of his piece “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle,” which featured a ship in a bottle with sails on it. The wind pieces represent those sails, billowing in the wind and bringing culture, people and information from country to country.
“Based on the history of the fabrics, I wanted to actually evoke that connection between Asia, Africa and Europe – and of course the diaspora in the United States,” says Shonibare. Dutch traders brought batik prints, an Indonesian textile, to African markets in the 19th century. The African batik that’s a familiar print today stems from those exchanges.
Greenway Public Art Curator Lucas Cowan says this cross-cultural theme is particularly poignant on the Greenway, which is situated between two immigrant-built neighborhoods, the North End and Chinatown. Shonibare’s piece joins Mexican-American folk artist Catalina Delgado-Trunk’s “Global Connections: Mesoamerican Myths, the Domestication of Nourishment and its Distribution” by and “A Mouse with Ears and Tail” by local artist Furen Dai. The collection makes for its own artistic melting pot on the shores of the Boston Harbor.
“Each of these artists really interprets their histories or their connections to an immigrant experience and to their culture in very different ways,” says Cowan. “Just to be able to say, ‘That’s somebody like me’ is extremely important.”
“Wind Sculpture (SG) V” winds around itself, flashing the bright batik pattern in shades of tangerine, maroon and turquoise. Shonibare says he uses the traditional batik process to make the prints but that the shapes are abstract images of his own creation, a blending of old and new. Accessibility is also a key part of the art experience. Shonibare came and visited the Greenway prior to making the piece and was moved by the way it acted as a meeting ground in bustling Downtown Boston, a democratic place of gathering and art appreciation.
The truly spectacular nature of the sculpture is the visual lightness of it. The artist’s vision of a piece of fabric twisting and billowing in the wind is perfectly rendered despite the heavy fiberglass body of the sculpture. One of the themes in Shonibare’s work is that of untruth and imagination in art, and here that is the illusion of lightness where there really lies strength.
“The works also challenge the history of monuments, in the sense that they are grounded, they come out of the ground and they’re not on a high pedestal,” says Shonibare. “They’re more or less evolving on the same level as the audience.”
In a way, “Wind Sculpture (SG) V” is an ideal picture of equality, a bright, hopeful artwork that’s made for and accessible to everyone.