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Snite sculpture contemplates environmental crisis facing today’s youth

| Friday, September 24, 2021

Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture “Earth Kid (Boy)” depicts a young boy dealing with climate change. The piece is currently on display at the Snite Museum of Art and goes hand in hand with the 2021 Notre Dame Forum on sustainability

Shonibare’s sculpture stands at about 5 feet tall and illustrates a boy carrying a net on his hunched back. The net is filled with plastic waste, rubber gloves, crushed bottles and other non-recyclable trash.

Yonibare’s colorful mannequin is made of fiberglass and cotton textiles, with a globe where the boy’s head should be. The child’s pants are decorated with a peacock pattern, and his blazer is a mix of purple, orange and white hues. But the bright kaleidoscope of colors and patterns starkly contrast the message of Shonibare’s sculpture: The youth of today face an environmental crisis. 

This is not the first time Shonibare has mixed politics with art. He constantly speaks out on prominent issues, and does it all through a creative lens. 

“Yinka Shonibare is one of the most important voices in the current discourse on climate change,” Gina Costa, the Snite Museum’s marketing and public relations manager, said. 

The globe that sits atop Earth Kid’s head is meant to symbolize the universality of the issue of climate change. It is not just an issue that one country can deal with alone — it calls all nations to band together.

“The work Shonibare does is just totally different from what anyone else is doing,” Costa said. “I mean, he’s just inventing his own visual vocabulary while addressing issues that are very, very important for today.” 

Shonibare is a British-Nigerian artist who currently resides in London. His pieces often comment on his African heritage, colonization and politics. He often manages to express messages by incorporating brightly colored mannequins such as the one on display at the Snite. Costa said they are thrilled to be able to display Shonibare’s work at Notre Dame.

“To have a work like this in the University is remarkable,” Costa said.  

The theme for the 2021 Notre Dame Forum was “Care for our Common Home,” with a focus on climate change and sustainability. Besides bringing pieces like “Earth Kid (Boy)” and hosting speakers on campus, Notre Dame is also committing to a plan to reduce carbon emissions

Daniel Miller, associate professor of environmental policy in the Keough School of Global Affairs, said he believes the Forum is an important step for the University.

“The campus is currently abuzz with events, conversations and actions related to the ND Forum’s theme,” Miller said in an email. “I am optimistic that this process will lead to meaningful change — in education and research on campus, but more broadly in the world through our actions.”

Shonibare’s piece will be on display at the Snite until Dec. 11 and is open for anyone to come see.

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About Gracie Eppler

Gracie Eppler is a freshman and is thankful that she has four more years to figure out what her major will be. She is from St. Louis, Missouri and lives in Flaherty Hall.

Contact Gracie