Collection Artwork
Yinka Shonibare CBE (born London, England, 1962)
Dorian Gray [Scene 2]
resin print
print size: 30 x 37 1/2 in.
frame size: 34 x 40 1/2 x 1 1/4 in.
The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum

Object Label

Art is a liar, Yinka Shonibare claims. In this photographic sequence, the artist has refashioned the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray, itself a refashioning of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel of the same name. In the original narrative, the handsome and youthful white title character trades his soul for outward beauty and youth: his painted portrait, rather than his physical body, will reflect the ravages of age and wrongdoing. The narcissistic Dorian declines into moral corruption yet physically reflects none of his age or degeneracy. The tale ends in tragedy, when Dorian attempts to destroy the now hideous portrait; instead, the portrait reverts to one of beauty and Dorian to an old, decrepit man as he kills himself instead. In Shonibare’s retelling, we see the title character’s transformation take place in his body, specifically when he encounters his reflection in a mirror.

By inserting himself into the role of an 1890s white English dandy, Shonibare, an Englishman of Nigerian descent and upbringing with a paralytic disability that forces him to use a cane, asks viewers to question and reconsider what he believes are inherently false historical and literary narratives. Surely, his presence would have been unlikely, if not impossible, in polite Victorian society. By placing himself in the role of Dorian Gray, Shonibare brings to light those who have been excluded from upper-class English society—and whose stories have been neglected in our histories. Shonibare’s cinematic images re-identify the fictional character Dorian Gray but also allow the artist to question the meanings of his own heritage: what does it mean to “be European” or “be African,” to represent or reflect the values of an entire continent? Further, by reimagining The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel about inner and outer selves and how they do or don’t relate to each other, Shonibare offers the opportunity to question whether how we perceive ourselves is how we present ourselves. When we look at others, when, if ever, do outward appearances relate to inner realities?

From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog

Oscar Wilde’s character Dorian Gray deals with both sides of “physical youth and beauty and inner moral corruption.” Gray, portrayed here by the artist, a Nigerian-Englishman, looks into the mirror without a smile and without a frown; he looks strong and stern. However, he is crazed and lost on the inside. Like Gray, I have dealt with similar problems regarding my race. As an Indian-American, I wear Rakhis on my wrist and Sperrys on my feet. When people ask if my white mom is “actually?!” my mom, I go to the mirror just like Gray. I stand looking at my brown skin and black hair wondering why I have to deal with these questions because these questions hurt. This piece in the Other Side: Art, Object, Self at the Tang Museum has allowed me to feel comfortable expressing my qualms and my appreciation for my intersectionality. Sometimes the questions about my mom or the mockery of my dad can get to me in ways that nothing else can. Despite this, I’ll keep wearing my Sperrys and rocking my Rakhis because that’s who I am, and I’m proud of it.
Pattern as of Jul 17, 6:36:05 am
daily on-campus page views: 1264
daily off-campus page views: -606
current wind in Saratoga Springs: 4.08 mph, WSW
Website design: Linked by Air