Yinka Shonibare has contributed the latest work to the Save The Arts campaign, which is asking the Government to reduce the proposed cuts in funding to the arts. Shonibare, who created the “Ship in a bottle”, currently occupying the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, has produced my favourite contribution to the campaign so far.
Shonibare has used his trademark boldly-printed African fabric, which makes this a really personal statement. This isn’t just art in general, or access to great art of the past that is under threat. This is his own work, and the work of many other artists like him, which will be harmed if excessive cuts are made to arts funding in October.
The message is simple but powerful too. But this isn’t a bold, in-your-face kind of statement. If anything, it’s kind of feeble. Rather than a defiant shout in the face of the damage that is about to be done, it sounds like more of desperate plea as the latest in a string of cuts comes along.
I also think Shonibare’s contribution has added punch in the way it links to his other work, such as the well known “Ship in a Bottle” and his other work. In a fun and theatrical way he combines British and African history in an unsettling way, asking big questions about the cost of the prosperity of the Empire, and the place of Black African peoples in its history.
If the cuts are as deep as is feared, there will be less freedom to ask these questions, and important voices won’t be heard.
Every aspect of public life is facing budget cuts, but this is about the scale of the cuts, and the opinion of many that the arts are an expensive luxury we can do without. I, along with many others, don’t agee.