Today, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is celebrating its 75th anniversary by unveiling Yinka Shonibare's work"Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" in its new permanent location outside the Sammy Ofer Wing.
The monumental artwork is a replica of HMS Victory, its 37 sails replaced by colourful batik fabrics associated with Africa — but still mainly produced in the Netherlands with motifs and techniques imported from the former Dutch colonies of Java.
First commissioned by the Mayor of London for Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth, "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" has been purchased by the museum from Stephen Friedman Gallery thanks to a nation-wide fundraising campaign. It was spearheaded by the charity Art Fund, which gave £50,000 towards the acquisition. £264,300 was raised from individual donors, and the museum, as well as the gallery on behalf of the artist, each chipped in with £49,100.
Shonibare is often criticized as a one-trick pony, having used batik to create scenes or motifs associated with the British imperialist elite ad nauseam. Yet there couldn't be a better suited site than the Natural Maritime Museum for his "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle." The message is as simple as it is clear: there's another side to the great nautical adventures of the 19th century. This is evident in most of the museum's indoor displays, but sitting proudly outside the museum, Shonibare's piece stands as a declaration of intent.