• Yinka Shonibare: Modern Spiritual (Fang Ngil, Kumbaduba)
  • Dovecot Studios
  • Dovecot Studios

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.

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 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.  

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.

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

Elaine Wilson

Elaine Wilson

Weaver
Ben Hymers

Ben Hymers

Weaver
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