Critics’ Picks

Odile and Odette IV, 2005–2006, color photograph, 49 x 63 1/2".


Yinka Shonibare MBE

ACA Gallery of SCAD
1280 Peachtree Street
January 10–March 2

Yinka Shonibare’s Odile and Odette, 2005, receiving its US premiere in this exhibition, is a sublime continuation of the artist’s practice of subverting canonical art-historical and literary works. The short film is based on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, in which one prima ballerina traditionally dances the roles of both Odette (the good, pure swan dressed in white) and Odile (the evil, mischievous swan dressed in black). In Shonibare’s contemporary adaptation, two dancers take the stage: one white-, the other black-skinned. Dressed in identical tutus and toe shoes crafted from Shonibare’s signature African printed fabrics, they appear in a rehearsal room of London’s Royal Opera House, which commissioned the piece. There is no music, only the rustling of their costumes and the sound of their feet touching the floor. As they begin to move, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not dancing with, but as reflections of, each other (as though the large, empty gilt frame that stands between them held a mirror). Every gesture is made in unison, from the most complex pirouettes to the smallest hand gestures. As with the best of Shonibare’s work, the seductive visual quality, here accentuated by spectacular cinematography, lures viewers in, only to have them leave with a plethora of questions regarding our preconceived notions of black and white, good and evil, even the nature of women.

Regrettably, the rest of the works on view pale in comparison with the powerful film. Four photographs in large gilt frames similar to the one seen on-screen capture the dancers onstage but do not convey the tension created by their mimicked movements. The sculpture—one of Shonibare’s signature headless figures wearing a costume from the film—dances on top of a nuclear cloud. The connection of this deadly explosion to the subtle nuances of the film, if any, is unclear, as is the reason behind including the wall painting Black Gold, 2006, the only object to lack any relation to the film at all. These objects may fill the gallery, but even with the film as support, they fall short of Shonibare’s characteristically commanding work.