What’s in a Sculpture?


Yinka Shonibare MBE is most well-known for his tableaux sculptures which exhibit colonization, race, and cultural aspects in each piece.  In all his works he exposes identity, disruption, multiculturalism, corporate power and revolution and each piece has a historical background and speaks to today’s society.

In identifying Shonibrae’s decisions and choices he definitely wanted to make it realistic and wanted us to feel like we were a part of the discussion at the table. There are 14 headless fiberglass mannequins sitting around a conference table with a map of Africa in the middle of it and they are discussing theEuropean post-Colonial impact on Africa. All 14 mannequins are men dressed in brightly colored African textile fabric which was a symbol of African History and culture. Clothing as a nonverbal entity can say a lot about a person and how we think of ourself. According to African culture this particular clothing expresses group identification and reflects that they are a political authority or high ranking official. Each color in the fabric has a different meaning; “gold represents status and serenity. Yellow represents fertility (like the ripeness of an egg yoke or a fruit) and vitality. Green signifies the renewal and growth seen in plants and represents the cycle of birth and decay. Blue represents the presence of God and the omnipotence of the blue sky. Blue also refers to a pure spirit, one which rests in harmony. Red connotes passion, the passion of political determination, struggle, and defense. Ashanti also believe that red holds protective powers. Finally, black denotes seriousness and a union with ancestors. It implies spiritual awareness” (Wayne, 2008).

The way he posed his pieces was amazing; they were fully engaged in what they were talking about. His creativity with the headless mannequins was unique and thought-provoking. Although these mannequins are headless you can still see how the sculpture portrays nonverbal communication of kinesics, haptics and proxemics. At the head of the table the gentlemen is acting as if he is going to stand and with his hands flat and his elbow outward on the table indicates he is frustrated. According to Delsarte’s System of Oratory “the elbow turned outward was said to signify strength, audacity, and abruptness” (Burgoon, Guerrero, & Floyd, 2009). The gentleman to his right has his hand on his shoulder in a control touch which concentrates on persuading the gentleman to set back down.

As you go around the table you can identify different types of body language. Sitting back in their chairs relaxed gives the impression they were comfortable with the discussion and had little to say or they weren’t interested in the conversation at all. The body language of the gentlemen that are sitting up in their chairs leaning forward with their bodies turned slightly to the left or right depicts they are listening intently and actively engaging in a heated debate over dividing up Africa. Continuing around the table each mannequin is portraying some type of kinesic gesture like finger pointing as if he was saying something to the gentlemen beginning to stand up. Arms crossed possibly in disgust at what is taking place. As far as proxemics they are all sitting within the 0 to 1 ½ feet range of intimate distance which some may feel they are in their personal space and could be part of the issue with the heated debate.  It is fairly easy to describe what there facial expressions and vocalics we be like just looking at their body language and gestures.

I chose this particular piece of art because it spoke to me. The imagination of an artist to reveal his sculptures without heads captivated me. I do feel there were some things that Shonibare was trying to get us to think about. The fact that they were all headless made me think they lacked the intelligence and vision to be making decisions about Africa’s future.  His lack of definite skin color to reveal their true race was quite interesting especially in a world today where multi-culture race is so prevalent.

When I think about it I was fascinated at how Shonibare’s artistic ability really came to life in this sculpture. The detail he embraced with each piece and the emotion and love he must have felt for Africa as he was putting this together was just incredible.




Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Floyd, K. (2009). Nonverbal Communications. Pearson.

Wayne. (2008, October 31). African Imports African Business Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.africaimports.com/wordpress/2008/10/african-fabrics-the-history-and-background-part-1/


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