Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle

Yinka Shonibare (1962 - )

Plastic, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, cork, acrylic and glass bottle


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© Yinka Shonibare CBE

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  • About the work

    Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare, is a miniature version of H.M.S. Victory, the flagship that Lord Horatio Nelson famously employed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This work is a maquette for a larger version of the same title that was unveiled in 2010, as part of The Fourth Plinth Project in Trafalgar Square. The first commission by a black British artist, Shonibare’s work was part of a national fundraising campaign that culminated with the successful acquisition of the sculpture by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. 

    Interviewed for The Observer just prior to the installation of the larger sculpture in Trafalgar Square, Shonibare said:

    ... it seemed obvious to do a work that was connected to the square in some way. I’m surprised no one has done that before. I wanted to do a serious thing for a serious space, but I also wanted it to be exciting, magical, and playful... Nelson’s victory freed up the seas for the British, and that led, in turn, to the building of the British Empire. But in a way, his victory also created the London we know today: an exciting, diverse, multicultural city.

    Coming to prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sonibare’s headless figures festooned in 17th-century clothing made from Dutch wax Indonesian batik fabrics synonymous with African design, were shown globally leading to a Turner Prize nomination in 2004, and a prominent installation in Documenta XI in 2008. Two years later saw his first public art commission with Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, bearing his now hallmark use of Dutch wax fabrics acting as sails. The cultural entanglement of this textile through industry and design is at the crux of Shonibare’s work that critiques a mono-cultural narrative, and exposes complex global relationships, particularly between Africa and Europe.

  • About the artist
    Yinka Shonibare CBE was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art, first at Byam School of Art and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA. Shonibare was a Turner Prize nominee in 2004, and was also awarded the decoration of Member of the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ or MBE, a title he has added to his professional name. Shonibare was notably commissioned by Okwui Enwezor at Documenta XI, Kassel, in 2002 to create his most recognised work 'Gallantry and Criminal Conversation' that launched him on to an international stage. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennale and internationally at leading museums. In September 2008, his major mid-career survey commenced at the MCA Sydney and then toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He was elected as a Royal Academician by the Royal Academy, London in 2013. In January 2019, Yinka Shonibare was awarded the decoration of CBE.
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  • Details
    Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle
    Plastic, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, cork, acrylic and glass bottle
    height: 41.30 cm, width: 66.00 cm, depth: 35.50 cm
    Purchased from Stephen Friedman Gallery, December 2009
    Stephen Friedman Gallery
    GAC number