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Class, Culture and Identity Explored in Party Time: Re-Imagine America at Newark Museum


Contact: Allison McCartney
  Public Relations Manager
  The Newark Museum
  Phone: (973) 596-6638

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Class, Culture and Identity Explored in
Party Time: Re-Imagine America

A Centennial Commission by Yinka Shonibare MBE
July 1, 2009 to January 3, 2010

Related FREE Events:

An Evening with Yinka Shonibare MBE - June 30 from 6 to 8 pm

This is My Africa – The Newark Black Film Festival - July 1 at 7 pm

Newark, NJ ­ The Newark Museum will unveil a major site-specific installation on July 1 by the internationally acclaimed artist Yinka Shonibare MBE entitled Party Time: Re-Imagine America to commemorate the Museum's Centennial. One of Shonibare's most ambitious works to date, Party Time will be installed in the dining room of the Ballantine House, the 1885 mansion and National Historic Landmark that is part of the Newark Museum campus. The artist's longtime exploration of Victorian-era culture finds full expression in this theatrical sculptural tableau, his first ever situated in an actual 19th century interior.

Born in London, England, and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Yinka Shonibare MBE considers himself to be a "postcolonial hybrid," a product of Britain's colonial relationship with Africa.   Shonibare's work is informed by his dual roots in Europe and Africa, and he has explored their intertwined histories through a range of media, including sculpture, painting, photography and film.  He is best known for his use of vibrantly patterned "Dutch wax" textiles which have been produced in European factories for West African markets for over a century. Shonibare incorporates the colorful, richly patterned cloth – which looks "African" but has more complicated origins – as a visual symbol in his work, in part to subvert assumptions about cultural identity and authenticity.   He has received critical acclaim for his provocative, yet playful, sculptural tableaux mining political and social histories and featuring headless mannequins clad in European period dress made from the fabric.

For the Newark Museum commission, Shonibare chose as his setting the mahogany-paneled dining room of the Ballantine House, built in 1885 for the prominent Newark brewing family, Jeannette and John Holme Ballantine, and part of the Newark Museum's campus since 1937.   In this opulent interior, the artist has staged an imagined scene of a late 19th century dinner party midway through a multi-course feast.   Eight headless figures, dressed in period costume made from the artist's signature "Dutch wax" fabric, are seated around an elaborately set table as a servant appears bearing the main course, a large peacock served on a silver platter.   The animated body language of the guests suggests a moment in which proper Victorian etiquette has begun to disintegrate, as an indulgent celebration of prosperity tips towards misbehavior and even debauchery.  The scene references the rise of wealth and quest for refinement that accompanied industrialization in the United States, where the elaborate dinner party replaced the bare-minimum meal, becoming a celebratory "eating fest" for the social and economic ruling class.  

"Party Time is one of the Shonibare's most important works to date, reflecting the culmination of major themes that the artist has explored in his work for over a decade," observes Christa Clarke, the curator of Party Time and the Museum's Curator of the Arts of Africa and Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas. "At its core, the installation considers the discrepancies of wealth generated by late-nineteenth-century enterprise, in which the material excesses and self-indulgence of a privileged few were made possible by the labor of others. His references to the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth in late 19th century America seem particularly relevant at this moment in time in the wake of our current economic collapse as a result of out-of-control spending."

Shonibare's site-specific installation is the second in a series of four artist commissions in honor of the Museum's Centennial presented in 2009 and 2010.   The Centennial Commissions respond to the Museum's history and diverse collections, finding points of intersection and connection between seemingly divergent areas of study and display within the Museum.  

The setting of Party Time in the historic Ballantine House amplifies the distinctive nature of the installation. "The Ballantine House offers a unique background for Yinka Shonibare's work," notes Ulysses Grant Dietz, the Museum's Senior Curator and Curator of the Decorative Arts, who contributed his expertise to the project.   "In an era when income tax was still unthinkable and immigrant labor, both in factories and in homes, made a lavish lifestyle possible, the house is a vivid symbol of the underlying social dichotomy of the Gilded Age."

In addition to his interest in Victorian-era culture, Shonibare's use of "Dutch wax" fabric in his work is also relevant to the Museum's history and collection.   "The Newark Museum was among the first museums in the country to develop a collection of ‘Dutch wax' fabric, as part of our broader representation of the arts of Africa" comments Clarke. "Shonibare's work allows us to make connections between these two different collection areas – the Ballantine House and our collection of African factory-print textiles – both treasured aspects of the Museum's broad-ranging collections."  

The public is invited to a program featuring Yinka Shonibare MBE on June 30 at 7 pm , as Curator  Christa Clarke engages the artist in a dialogue about the artistic process in developing Party Time and how this major sculptural installation relates to his larger body of work.   The discussion will be preceded by a reception in the Museum's Engelhard Court beginning at 6 pm, during which the public will also be able to preview the installation.   The event is free and pre-registration is required. Further information may be obtained by calling 973-596-6550.

The following evening, the Newark Museum will screen the award-winning documentary, This Is My Africa, d irected and produced by Zina Saro-Wiwa as part of the Newark Museum's Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF), celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Shonibare is one of 20 London-based Africans featured in the film who share personal memories, tastes and experiences of Africa.   The film was created to "improve the way the world sees Africa" and it has been described as "a 50-minute crash course in African culture."  Attendees will have an opportunity to tour Party Time prior to the 7 pm screening of This is My Africa on Wednesday, July 1.

Yinka Shonibare has exhibited widely throughout the world in group and solo exhibitions.   In 2005, the artist was awarded the prestigious title of Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), an honorific he adopted with his characteristic sense of irony.    Concurrent to the Newark Museum commission, The Brooklyn Museum will present the first major survey of the work of Yinka Shonibare MBE.   On view June 26 through September 20, 2009 Yinka Shonibare MBE will include more than twenty works, among them sculptures, paintings, large-scale installations, and film.   There will also be a site-specific installation featuring small children titled Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play that will be on view in several of the museum's period rooms.

The Newark Museum's membership department will host a day trip on July 15 to both the Newark Museum and Brooklyn Museum to explore the exhibitions of Yinka Shonibare MBE.  For more information about this event, call (973)596-6643.

 The Newark Centennial Celebration is made possible through the generous support of Prudential.  Additional support for Party Time has been provided by Ellyn and Saul Dennison.

The Newark Museum is located at 49 Washington Street in the Downtown/Arts District of Newark, New Jersey, just 3 blocks from NJPAC and 10 miles west of New York City.   The Museum is open all year round: Wednesdays through Fridays, from Noon - 5 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., October 1 – June 30; and Saturdays and Sundays, from Noon – 5 p.m., July 1 – September 30.   Suggested Museum admission: Adults, $10.00; Children, Seniors and Students with valid I.D., $6.00. Members and Newark residents are admitted free. The Museum Café is open for lunches Wednesday through Sunday. Convenient parking is available for a fee.   For general information, call 973-596-6550 or visit our Web site, .   The Newark Museum, a not-for-profit museum of art, science and education, receives operating support from the City of Newark, the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State—a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Cultural Trust, the Prudential Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Victoria Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and other corporations, foundations and individuals. Funds for acquisitions and activities other than operations are provided by members and other contributors.

The Newark Museum is just a few steps from the NJTransit Light Rail Washington Park Station.  Direct connection with the Light Rail at the Broad Street Station and through Penn Station makes the Museum a convenient ride from all points in the region.


- END -


For Images and More Information Contact:

Allison McCartney , Public Relations Manager, Newark Museum      

Phone: (973) 596-6638, e-mail:


Jerry Enis, Consultant, Herbert George Associates

Phone: 732-446-5400, e-mail:

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