Yinka Shonibare’s Mr. and Mrs. Andrews without their Heads reimagines Thomas Gainsborough’s famous 18th-century portrait of Mr. Andrews, Mrs. Andrews, and their land, in a critique of our reliance on ideas of authenticity.
Shonibare lifts Mr. and Mrs. Andrews out of their social, economic and political identity — the British landscape — and transports them, bereft of their heads, to a gallery setting. He clothes the figures in Dutch waxed cotton in styles reflecting the fashions of 18th-century gentry. Inspired by wax-resist dyeing techniques from Indonesia — once part of the Dutch overseas empire — Dutch waxed cotton was an important aspect of European trade for at least two centuries. It is an expression of African independence, affluence, cultural resilience, strength and identity.
Shonibare reminds viewers that nothing is what it seems by exposing the mechanisms of meaning-making in art history (the stories we tell in art about ourselves and others). This work also investigates the sociopolitical supremacies that supported centuries of colonialism, enhancing alienation while also affecting cultural diversity and belonging.
Through complicated layers of reappropriation, Shonibare defies concepts of authenticity in our relationships to class, race, and gender, both in art history and towards one another.
Curator: Rachelle Dickenson, OAG
French Translation: Marie-Camille Lalande
Design: Phillip Lizotte and Sophie Nakashima
This installation is a partnership between the OAG and the National Gallery of Canada.
It was realized with the support of the City of Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as the RBC Foundation’s support of the OAG’s Connect: Artist Mentorship Program.
Image: Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA Mr. and Mrs. Andrews without their Heads, 1998, two life-size mannequins, bench, gun, dog, Dutch wax printed cotton, , 165 x 635 x 254 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Yinka Shonibare CBE. All Rights Reserved DACS/Artimage 2022. Photo: NGC