Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle

On one corner of Trafalgar Square here in London is what is known as the Fourth Plinth. For many years it was left empty, as if kept spare for some British hero in the future, though I've heard it suggested that its reserved for our Queen.

In the mean while it is the home of the Fourth Plinth series of specially commissioned art works, the latest is seen in the photo above. It is called "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" and is by the Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.

The ship is indeed a scale model of Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, on which he simultaneously won his greatest victory at Trafalgar and lost his life. It is presented in a huge glass bottle, just as the sailors of old used to make scale models of their ships and insert them into (one guesses) used bottles of rum.

The sails, however, are made not from canvas but in the colourful fabrics used by Africans in their dress, as can be seen in the photo below. It's a nice touch and a good way to remember that the British Empire was a two way experience with an exchange of culture and goods.

It also reflects the diversity of London today. As the artist puts it "For me its a celebration of London’s immense ethnic wealth, giving expression to and honouring the many cultures and ethnicities that are still breathing precious wind into the sails of the United Kingdom"

Well worth dropping into Trafalgar Square to have a look if you are in London.

I wonder what Nelson, standing high above up on his column, would have made of it?

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