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The Magic of Youth in Shonibare's Exibit

Sophia Weinstein's picture

Colors, Patterns, Stillness and Liveliness, Wheelchair and Stilts, Conflicts and Companionship. So much is happening simultaneously in the Shonibare’s Magic Ladders exhibit. It is difficult to narrow in on one element of such an intentional, “provocative examination of European colonialism and European and African identities” (Media Preview, scan 6), but I think what struck me most was the representation of children and adults, and the contrasts between the roles they embody. The adult figures are purely embodiments of their roles in society, pre-defined by their profession and achievements. Of the 24 adult figures (including the five men in the aluminum prints), 22 are seated. All of the adult statues are headless. Perhaps this is representative of their fixed roles in life. They have reached their destinations and rather than strive for progress and knowledge, they have relaxed into their roles, unporous to discovery.

The child statues are a different story. They embody the search for knowledge and a duty to grow and 'climb' to greater hights. Unlike the headless adults, who are no longer relying on their minds to find their way, the Magic Ladders installations I,II, and III show young children with 'globe heads' climbing up a ladder made of books. They are literally climbing a ladder of education, getting ahead as a result of learning and a search for knowledge. The young boy in "Plants in my Head, Philosophy 2013" is laying down and reading about The Theory of Ideas in a book entitled "The Doctrine of Plato". In another, a young girl peers upwards through a telescope. Their futures are undefined, they are at a beginning. They are observing and absorbing the world, untethered by roles and duties of an adult.

This reminds me of our discussions in Education, about the virtues that freedom, access, independence, and play have on the lives of children. Perhaps Yinkas exhibit exemplifies the detriments of losing that constant need to re-understand the world as one becomes an adult. The adults are settled into their roles, detached and closed off from a need for discovery and in this way become less porous to the world around them. Is that what youth is, being porous?


Jenna Myers's picture

Childhood learning and Adult living

Even though I wasn’t able to visit Shonibare’s exhibit with the class, I had actually been to the exhibit at the beginning of the month. From what I do remember I was interested in the mannequins of the children climbing the ladders. Children learn and understand the world through education (books) and well as exploration (exploring outside, learning about the unknown). The heads of the children were of planets and the other children climbed on ladders with steps of books. As the preview mentioned, “Planets in My Head, Philosophy (2011); Planets in My Head, Physics (2010); and Pedagogy Boy/Boy (2011), echo the theme of the magical, transformative discoveries of childhood learning” (Scan 5). The placement of the figures on the ladders made me think of people and who is willing to push themselves to reach their goals. When I first saw the exhibit, I thought the figures were all positioned at different stages/areas of the ladder showing the progress and growth of education of the children.

But something that I didn’t realize when I was first at the exhibit was the fact that the children had heads whereas the adults were headless. Was Shonibare trying to say that once you are adults you stop learning and growing and trying to reach your goals?