Skip to main content Skip to site map (in footer)

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle

  • Date: 7 June 2010
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: National
© Yinka Shonibare, MBE and courtesy of the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery (London) and James Cohan Gallery (New York) © Yinka Shonibare, MBE and courtesy of the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery (London) and James Cohan Gallery (New York), Photo courtesy Stephen White

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, by Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, was unveiled on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth on 24 May 2010 - on the eve of Africa Unity Day.

The artwork, which is a 1:30 scale replica of the HMS Victory encased in a 4.7m x 2.8m bottle and featuring African-inspired batik sails, explores the legacy of British colonialism - made possible by Nelson's victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. It is the first Fourth Plinth commission by a black British artist and the first to relate directly to its historic Trafalgar Square location.

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle was commissioned by the Mayor of London and supported by Arts Council England and the Henry Moore Foundation, with sponsorship from Guaranty Trust Bank of Nigeria.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: 'The Fourth Plinth is about enigma and this will be a national conversation piece - people will ask what it says, is it pro-empire, is it anti-empire? As with the times, it's a vibrant coalition bringing together the traditional and the contemporary, showing London to be creative and forward looking.'

Yinka Shonibare said: 'London is such a diverse community, and art is a fantastic way to engage everyone regardless of race, class or gender. It is particularly great that this piece is an expression of Nelson's legacy, a legacy which has contributed to the diversity of this city.'

Moira Sinclair, London Executive Director of Arts Council England said: 'Yinka's artwork looks through a historic lens to celebrate contemporary London as a truly global city. It directly reflects on its setting and will provide a perfect counterpoint for Nelson. We hope everyone will enjoy the piece on the plinth.'

Between 1841 and 1999, the Fourth Plinth in the north west corner of Trafalgar Square remained empty. Now it is used to display a series of temporary works of art commissioned from leading national and international artists.