Dutch wax printed cotton textile, telescope, wooden chair and globe
141.0 x 74.0 x 46.0 Size (cm)
55.5 x 29.1 x 18.1 Size (in)‘Cheeky Little Astronomer III’ is a playful sculpture by Yinka Shonibare MBE that depicts a young boy perched on a wooden chair, reclining backwards and gazing through a telescope towards the heavens. Fascinated by geographical and cultural identity, Shonibare fuses different references in this work. The child’s figure recalls western classicism, while his Victorian costume and chair serve as reminders of Britain’s colonial past. The brightly coloured, patterned batik fabric is a symbol of African identity but it is in fact fabricated in Indonesia, produced in the Netherlands and sold in West Africa.
Shonibare explores ideas of colonialism and post-colonialism in his work. The clothes the child wears are made from batik fabric, with vivid patterns created by dying the cloth with a wax-resist. Many of these patterns are rich in symbolic meaning that allows them to be ‘read’ in some cultures. These fabrics have become a hallmark of Shonibare’s practice, as he is captivated by how something that denotes one culture can have a secret, multicultural history.
The figure has a black celestial globe head with white text listing the names of the famous scientists and astronomers. The chair grounds the sculpture, providing a stark contrast with the limitless space that is suggested by the telescope and globe.
‘Cheeky Little Astronomer III’ forms part of Shonibare’s ‘Planets in My Head’ series of life-sized sculptures representing different strands of knowledge attributed to Western culture. The artist’s first ‘Cheeky Little Astronomer’ sculpture belongs to the collection of the Royal Academy of Arts, London but was originally commissioned for an exhibition at the Astronomer Royal's apartments in Flamsteed House, part of the Royal Observatory Greenwich, London. The house was built in 1675 for the Astronomer Royal, a position established by King Charles II to educate the monarch on astronomy. The hand-held telescope signifies the scientific discovery that took place in the house, while the chair and child-like figure are rooted in the domestic, evoking the Astronomer’s family's daily life that unfolded alongside astronomical equipment.
There is something strikingly uplifting about the skyward pose of Shonibare’s figure. The child has clambered onto the chair in order to peer upwards. Describing his ‘Cheeky Little Astronomer’ the artist recounts: ‘The work also evokes magic. Looking into the stars, there’s something aspirational, forward-looking and magical about the piece.’