Magic Ladder Kid II, 2013. Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather, fiberglass, wooden ladder, steel baseplate, globe. 115 5/8 x 31 1/2 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the Pizzuti Collection.
With Magic Ladder Kid II, Yinka Shonibare, who was born in Nigeria and raised in Britain, playfully mixes seemingly disparate cultures and time periods to question the complex identity of today’s globalized citizen. A black globe takes the place of the child’s head and suggests that she is both a product of globalization, in addition to a curious and aspiring child seeking to learn more about a world largely defined (and dictated) by books on Western art, warfare, gardening, literature and other subjects.
The sculptural figure wears a distinctly Victorian dress made of Dutch-wax printed cotton, a colorful patterned fabric coded to denote “Africanness” in our collective visual memory. Shonibare consistently uses Dutch-wax fabric in his work, as the history of the fabric is reflective of the larger complexities of European colonialism and its visual products. Dutch-wax was originally produced in Holland as a cheap European imitation of the batik fabrics popular in colonial Indonesia. British textile makers co-opted Dutch-wax, selling it to the colonial market in West Africa as everyday clothing material. Today, African immigrants across the globe wear Dutch-wax prints as a means of maintaining a sense of cultural identity apart from their homeland. Shonibare reveals a crack in the cultural matrix; such a strong visual symbol of “Africanness” is, ironically, a complex product of global colonialism.