Yinka Shonibare How Does a Girl Like You Get to Be a Girl Like You? 1995

  • Not on view

These Western–style nineteenth–century costumes, worn by mannequins as if part of a historical display, are made from so-called African fabrics. "African fabric signifies African identity," explains the artist, "rather like American jeans (Levi's) are an indicator of trendy youth culture. In Brixton, African fabric is worn with pride amongst radical or cool youth [....] It becomes an aesthetics of defiance, an aesthetics of reassurance, a way of holding on to one's identity in a culture presumed foreign or different."

Although typically African and worn as an expression of an idealized unified identity, these wax–print fabrics are actually Dutch and were made in factories in England, where Yinka Shonibare, who was brought up in Nigeria, now lives and works. Originally made in Holland with an Indonesian technique, and exported to Africa, such fabrics bespeak colonial trade. The title is taken from a line in Alfred Hitchock's 1959 film North by Northwest, and like the cultural conflation of the work, poses a question about identity and becoming.

Gallery label from 2006.
Dutch wax print cotton on mannequins
Overall height approximately 68" (172.7 cm)
Gift of Agnes Gund
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

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