Indépendance-Cha-Cha was the name of the soundtrack accompanying the liberation of the Congo from Belgian colonial rule. When, in 1997, his sculpture Cha Cha Cha was exhibited at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, artist Yinka Shonibare explicitly showed how citizens of independent African states, symbolized by fabric, adopted a western-style dance, symbolized by shoes, nearly everywhere in Africa at the time.
This first layer of interpretation quickly gives rise to a second, deeper layer of meaning, urging viewers to question the symbolism of the colourful, patterned fabric. While an intrinsic component of fashion and everyday life in many African countries, waxed cloth has always been designed and produced in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Shonibare does not satisfy the viewer at a first glance, rather imposing new sets of questions: what kind of fabric is this that like no other represents this free new Africa, but is produced by the former colonial rulers? Does this fact best illustrate the supposed independence of African states, citizens and people from European rule? A pair of ladies’ shoes from the 1950s, colourfully printed cotton cloth from Manchester and a catchy title – Shonibare needs no more to entangle the viewer in a discussion about identity, cultural representation and political (in) dependence.