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Art world celebrates virtual gala to mark Yinka Shonibare CBE RA as Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon 2021

Art world celebrates virtual gala to mark Yinka Shonibare CBE RA as Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon 2021

Accompanied online by more than 250 artists, collectors and art world luminaries, Shonibare’s profound contribution to contemporary art was celebrated during an evening hosted by actress Rakie Ayola with Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE. Shonibare is the eighth artist to receive the award.

Iwona Blazwick said: “Yinka Shonibare is a truly exceptional artist and is an exemplary Art Icon. His vividly clothed figurative sculptures, the Hogarthian scenarios he creates as installations and photographs, and his beautiful films celebrate African culture while exposing the legacies of race and empire. Globally celebrated Shonibare also supports younger generations of artists in Britain and Africa; both his artistic legacy and his charitable initiatives will resonate for years to come.”

Nadja Swarovski commented: “The Swarovski Foundation is delighted to continue its support of the Whitechapel Gallery and the Art Icon award, which this year honours an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to our cultural life. Yinka Shonibare’s work is strikingly beautiful and exerts a profound emotional power whilst exploring issues such as race, power and identity. Through his charitable programmes, Shonibare’s support of the next generation of artists and to cultural exchange have been equally impactful.”

Cheyenne Westphal, Global Chairwoman, Phillips, said, “We were absolutely delighted to host the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon online charity auction on Phillips’ digital platform. The great results achieved for the Whitechapel Gallery Education and Community programmes are testament to the fantastic team at Whitechapel Gallery and the contemporary artists who generously donated artworks and experiences to this worthy cause. Phillips is proud to continue in our support of the Whitechapel Gallery and thrilled to have been a part of this special experience honouring the work of Yinka Shonibare CBE.”

Guests on the evening included: artists Antony Gormley, Ayo Akingbade, Tunji Adeniyi Jones, Antonia Showering, Angela de la Cruz, Flora Yukhnovich, Jadé Fadojutimi and Cassi Namoda; Whitechapel Gallery Trustees Alex Sainsbury (Chair), Erin Bell and Nicola Kerr; art patrons and philanthropists Russell Tovey, Dame Vivian Hunt, Nicoletta Fiorucci Russo and Faaiza Lalji; Shonibare’s gallerists James and Jane Cohan (James Cohan), Helen Waters and David Cleaton-Roberts (Cristea Roberts Gallery), Karon Hepburn and Stephen Friedman (Stephen Friedman Gallery), and Liza Essers and Jo Stella-Sawicka (Goodman Gallery); and Art Icon Committee members Aki Abiola, Oba Nsugbe, Catherine Petitgas, Maria Sukkar, Irene Panagopoulos, Dorota Audemars, Terhas Berhe, Bimpe Nkontchou, Nadja Swarovski (Swarovski Foundation) and Cheyenne Westphal (Phillips).

A dedicated performance in honour of Shonibare marked the occasion, with four-time Grammy Award winning musician Angélique Kidjo singing two songs, Malaika and Afrika, from her home in Paris.
Tributes from around the world were brought together in a special dedication film celebrating Shonibare’s awarding as the Art Icon, with messages from Clare Lilley, Isaac Julien, Charles Saumarez Smith, Bob and Roberta Smith, Jenni Lomax, Thelma Golden and many more.

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The event and online charity auction hosted by Phillips auction house on were a great success and helped raised crucial funds for the Gallery’s Education and Community programmes. Artworks featured in auction were generously donated by leading contemporary artists including Jadé Fadojutimi, Ilse D’Hollander, Donna Huanca, Rachel Jones, Wonder Buhle Mbambo, Cassi Namoda, Ernesto Neto, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Antonia Showering, Khari Turner and Flora Yukhnovich. The auction also offered exceptional experiences including a dinner with Iwona Blazwick and artist Michael Armitage, a studio visit bundle with Whitechapel Gallery alumni William Kentridge, Tala Madani and Michael Rakowitz, an exclusive luxury tour of the new Audemars Piguet Museum in Switzerland and shopping experiences at Margaret Howell and Henry Poole of Savile Row.

The evening radiated positivity and excitement as guests enjoyed a carefully-curated virtual experience on the platform, Upstage. Guests also delighted in a bespoke, Nigerian-inspired menu designed by Shonibare in collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery’s restaurant, Townsend, delivered to attendees’ homes.

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