Lady justice, sword in one hand, scales in the other, gestures at us on Old Burlington Street, behind the glass windows of the gallery. It’s a show designed to be looked at from outside: unreachable, but unmissable.
It’s Stephen Friedman Gallery and Yinka Shonibare’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement that’s roiled the global discourse this summer. The outdoor viewing is induced by the year’s other big global event.
As so often with Shonibare’s work, the head is a globe, symbol of travel and exploration on one hand, exploitation on the other. The pretty batik-print dress is similarly double-edged: the technique was introduced by the colonial Dutch, but was then exported round the world, and reads as an “African pattern” for the uneducated viewer, me included.
The larger-than-life-size sculpture and its pose are immediately recognisable to a British viewer, even if they can’t quite place the source: it’s the statue that adorns the Old Bailey, London’s criminal court, the background image of so many news stories on famous trials down the years. A symbol of the structural injustice Black Britons continue to face, reconfigured.
Elsewhere on view in the window-facing room is a work I saw in Nottingham earlier this year, a blue-hued club scene from Denzil Forrester, who took inspiration from the reggae clubs he visited in Hackney back in the 80s. To deepen the sense of injustice, we are reminded of Black joy.
Yinka Shonibare: Justice for All is at Stephen Friedman Gallery (London). 15 June - 27 August 2020