The Making of 'Modern Spiritual (Fang Ngil, Kumbaduba)' by Yinka Shonibare at Dovecot Studios
Rob McDougall

Dovecot Studios is delighted to announce our recently completed tapestry with Yinka Shonibare CBE RA is now on display in their solo exhibition, Boomerang: Returning to African Abstraction, at James Cohan’s Gallery, New York.

The Yinka Shonibare studio approached Dovecot Studios to commission a tapestry based on Modern Spiritual I (2023), an artwork referencing African masks thought to be owned by Francis Picabia, which are now held in the Louvre’s collection.

Weaving of Modern Spiritual Yinka Shonibare tapestry

Modern Spiritual (Fang Ngil, Kumbaduba)(2023) was woven by Dovecot Master Weaver Louise Trotter and Weavers Ben Hymers and Elaine Wilson over a period of four months. The tapestry measured 200cm x 160cm once completed and was handwoven using a mix of cotton, wool, linen and metallic thread. 

The Dovecot weavers employed several techniques to mimic the ‘flatness’ of the original artwork, which were achieved by using both single and double weaving techniques. The black elements of the tapestry are woven in single weave, while most of the other sections are double woven. This combination of weaving techniques allows for texture and depth within the tapestry without offering dimension.

Weaving Modern Spiritual (Fang Ngil, Kumbaduba) presented its own set of challenges. The use of coloured warps, in particular, added complexity to the process as the treads could not be inked, and the weavers relied on the cartoon for precise guidance. The artwork uses pure colours, with minimal mixing and blending of the yarn, to maintain the vibrancy of the original artwork. The mask detail demanded meticulous knotting to achieve the desired level of precision and slickness in the curves.  

Weaving detail of Modern Spiritual tapestry

Shonibare’s textile work began with creating vibrant quilts using applique techniques and batik fabrics. One of the artist's signature styles is to leave much of the quilt construction exposed, honouring the process by allowing threads to hang and leaving the fringes bare. To echo the artist's quilt style, threads of coloured yarn were intentionally left to hang loose from the tapestry, and the coloured warp was left exposed at the bottom instead of being tucked away as it is traditionally done in tapestry weaving. The result is a visually striking tapestry with a surface that exudes a sleek, modern aesthetic and harmoniously blends the African aesthetic roots of European modernist abstraction.

You can see the Modern Spiritual (Fang Ngil, Kumbaduba) tapestry on display in the exhibition Boomerang: Returning to African Abstraction currently at James Cohan’s Gallery on 48 Walker Street, New York, until 22nd December 2023.

Modern Spiritual (Fang Ngil, Kumbaduba), Yinka Shonibare

Image credit: The artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Photo by Stephen White & Co.

Elaine Wilson

Elaine Wilson

Ben Hymers

Ben Hymers


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