Thursday 6 December 2012

Winter stroll: Nelson's Ship in a Bottle

London is very cold just now, and while bracing fresh air is always good, you can have too much of a good thing! In order to make the most of the daylight, without risking frostbite, I shall be offering a few ideas for outdoor points of interest which are conveniently close to warm, indoor attractions with cafes. 

First is Yinka Shonibare MBE's work, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle. It originally appeared on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, but now has a permanent home at the National Maritime Museum.

The ship in a bottle is a very traditional ornament, and this massively over-sized version has an equally traditional choice of subject: Nelson's HMS Victory. At the neck is a 'wax seal', featuring the artist's initials. However, this is not simply a very large version of an ordinary object. There are non-traditional elements too; in particular, the sails are printed with African textile designs. 

One of Shonibare's interests is post-colonialism, and the fabrics used here feature in much of his other work. He points out that while they are seen as traditionally African, they actually have a more complex, cross-cultural background. The fabrics are Dutch wax cloth, with patterns inspired by Indonesian designs; these particular pieces were made near Manchester. Shonibare's own history is similarly cross-cultural: born in London, he spent much of his childhood in Nigeria before returning to the city in his teens. 

Once you've admired the ship (and noted the vents for an air-conditioning system cleverly concealed in its plinth), look beyond it to Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory. You can then walk into the National Maritime Museum to find out more about Nelson (and have a hot drink in the cafe). Admission is free. 

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