A new season of exhibitions and commissions launched at The Box in Plymouth
this month with a nationally touring fine art exhibition and a thought-provoking sculpture. Both elements of the programme explore empire, trade and colonisation in different ways with the aim of encouraging visitors to think about social and historical narratives from a different perspective.
Teeming with beauty, colour and life, the artworks are presented in The Boxs beautifully restored St Lukes church gallery, providing audiences with a stunning overview of leading artists in the field, including Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621), Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), and a chance to admire their style, technical characteristics and exquisite detail up close.
At the dawn of the 1600s, these Netherlandish painters were among the first artists to produce pictures that exclusively depicted flowers. Boosted by a growing interest in botany and horticulture, and an international trade in exotic plants, they went on to become one of the most characteristic themes of Dutch painting.
Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery says: This exhibition is an opportunity to admire the exquisite skill of Dutch flower painters over a period of nearly 200 years, from 1609 to 1789. They are paintings of astounding quality and beauty, often rich in symbolism and historic interest.
He added: The National Gallery is a resource for the people of this country for learning, enjoyment and well-being, and this exhibition is just one part of a much wider and longstanding programme of national activity that honours our commitment to sharing our paintings with as many people as possible.
Specially commissioned works by British artist Kedisha Coakley that explore the relationship between the trade in fruit, flowers, seeds and empire are presented alongside the exhibition.
The Box has also selected a number of related works from its permanent art collection for display, including examples of Iznik pottery from the former Ottoman Empire and 17th century Dutch ceramics, an oil painting by Dutch artist Jan Weenix (1641/1649-1719) and a rare volume of illustrations by renowned entomologist and botanical artist Meria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717).
Victoria Pomery, CEO of The Box says: Dutch flower painting captivated an age and these beautiful paintings which are packed full of detail demand close observation. They also open up conversations about our interaction with nature and, with the addition of Kedisha Coakleys works, the relationship between horticulture, plants and all that empire entails.
The Boxs chosen theme of Revisiting History is also explored through Yinka Shonibare CBE RAs End of Empire (12 October 2023-23 June 2024) from this autumn.
Originally commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UKs arts programme for the 2014-2018 First World War centenary, the sculpture depicts two figures wearing brightly coloured suits. Their heads have been replaced with globes and they sit on a steampunk seesaw a symbol of Victorian industrialisation.
Both suits are made from Dutch wax textiles: an Indonesian batik printing technique which was pioneered by the Dutch in textile mills, imported to Africa in the 1800s, and claimed as their own by the Ghanaians and Nigerians.
The globe heads represent the two sides in the First World War: the British-French allies and the Austro-Hungarians and Germans. The seesaw swings slowly, constantly rebalancing; a striking visual reference to a global conflict that shifted the balance of power and which saw the demise of four once dominant empires German, Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian.
Victoria Pomery continues: Like many museums and art galleries in the UK and beyond, we are working hard to decolonise our collections and displays, and its really important that we echo this approach in our temporary programming too. End of Empire is a multi-layered work that speaks to ideas around conflict and how borders are constantly shifting. Its a reminder that things are always changing, and how our understanding of history informs our understanding of whats happening in the world today.
Yinka Shonibare CBE is a British-born Nigerian artist who moved from London to Lagos as a child. He is known for works like Nelsons Ship in a Bottle (2010, Fourth Plinth) that tackle the themes of globalisation and empire. The use of Dutch wax fabric is a hallmark of Shonibares work. Historically produced by Dutch colonisers, the fabric was claimed and repurposed by West Africans. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004 and became a Royal Academician in 2013. Made an MBE in 2004 and a CBE in 2019, Shonibare wears this title in a self-consciously postcolonial way, stating I cant be defined without the British-colonial experience of my birth and background. I dont exist without it. My biggest preoccupation is with the idea of universal humanism.
October 7th, 2023 - January 7th, 2024
Yinka Shonibare CBE RAs: End of Empire
October 12th, 2023 - June 23rd, 2023
Later this autumn, The Box will also premiere a major new film commission by artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah. Arcadia (30 November 2023-2 June 2024) is an immersive five- channel work that explores colonialism, capitalism and the global implications of climate change, challenging perceptions about how the world has been constructed.