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British-Nigerian Art Takes Shape in Downtown West Palm Beach

1 Shonibare Material SG II.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Yinka Shonibare’s "Material (SG) II" sculpture sits outside of 360 Rosemary Square in Downtown West Palm Beach

A colorful West African batik fabric is the latest art installation adorning downtown West Palm Beach.

The hand-painted fiberglass sculpture, by award-winning, British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, illustrates the natural forces of wind shaping and molding a traditional piece of African fabric.

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Shonibare, who is based in the United Kingdom and spent his childhood between Lagos, Nigeria and London, England, explores the multi-layered emergence of global trade, human migration alongside the ever-evolving impact of post-colonialism, class, identity, and multiculturalism.

Developers, who worked to bring the piece to West Palm Beach, said Shonibare’s "Material (SG) II” sculpture adds an international flair to the local public art scene.

The project is a public-private partnership between Related Companies and the city of West Palm Beach. The piece is valued at $920,000 and was installed outside of 360 Rosemary Square.

Gopal Rajegowda, senior vice president at Related Companies, helped commission the project and corresponded with Shonibare before the piece arrived.

“The fabric blowing in the wind is similar to sails of a ship and it’s intended to signify trade routes and a movement of people,” Rajegowda said.

2 Shonibare Material SG II.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Yinka Shonibare’s "Material (SG) II" sits outside of 360 Rosemary Square in Downtown West Palm Beach. It's part of Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture series.

The fabric is considered to be a traditional African batik cloth but the style is actually based on Indonesian patterns first brought to the African continent by Dutch traders in the 1800s. The Dutch wax batik print is a metaphor for the way in which colonialism has influenced and shaped cultural identity.

Sybille Welter, the city’s administrator of public art and culture, said Shonibare’s work turns public spaces into an experience.

“He’s also bringing in national identities and how we construct our narratives. And these all really resonate with Florida especially," said Welter. “We are a very multicultural area and we’re by the sea. And so all of these things play a part in bringing this artist’s [work] into the city of West Palm Beach.”

“It just brings a cultural element that is accessible to anyone, which is really the role that public art plays,” Welter said.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.