British/Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE explores colonialism and the intricate ways in which it has shaped, and continues to shape, cultural identities. He is well known for his life-size sculptural tableaux featuring staged, headless mannequins dressed in elaborate period garments.
In Scramble for Africa,2003, fourteen headless, mixed-race mannequins are seated at a sixteen-foot-long table. They symbolize the European figureheads who came together at the Berlin Conference, 1884–1885, to annex territories of trade in Africa for each of their countries. With regard to colonialism, the absence of heads implies loss of identity and, moreover, loss of humanity. Of this work, Shonibare explains, “I wanted to represent these European leaders as mindless in their hunger for what the Belgian King Leopold II called ‘a slice of this magnificent African cake.
[…] In these works, the materials and designs of the original clothing are replaced with batik, a colorful and ornately patterned fabric. The story of batik itself speaks to the notion of colonization and its effects: it originated in Indonesia; then, by way of imperial explorers, it was introduced to West Africa, where it was appropriated and now has its strongest associations; and indeed its greatest exporters are not in Africa at all, but are Dutch and British. By presenting his version of historical (often white, European) figures dressed in batik, Shonibare “Africanizes” the subjects, subversively pointing out a multitude of deep-rooted mythologies, falsehoods, and prejudices that complicate the dominant narrative of history and identity. - via themodern