Yinka Shonibare, “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” (2010)
The Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square is a great example of turning a failure into an opportunity. The other 3 plinths in the majestic square in the city center feature statues of historical figures, but the fourth was never built due to lack of funding. It lay empty for over 150 years until the Royal Society of the Arts came up with the fourth plinth project, commissioning art works for temporary installation. The Greater London Authority now runs the project. Shonibare’s proposal was chosen for 2010, and is the first to feature an object directly engaged with the square’s namesake, the British naval victory during the Napoleonic Wars. The ship in the bottle is Admiral Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory, hung instead with batik cloth sails.
Shonibare spoke of the piece’s contemporary cultural significance to the Times:
“It’s very much a contemporary phenomenon that we take what we want from different cultures,” he says. “We might eat Indian today or hang out in Spain tomorrow. I celebrate that, it’s not unique to me just because of my African origins. It’s the way that most British people live their lives now. In a sense that’s what this piece is celebrating, it’s the legacy of Nelson. Nelson fought this battle against Napoleon and that meant that for the next 100 years or so the British had control of the seas. Which meant that the Empire could prosper and expand, and that process really did take in other cultures. One consequence of that is the very multicultural city that we have today.”