‘Kaleidoscope’ is a multiple by Yinka Shonibare MBE that playfully explores gender stereotypes and power relations: a kaleidoscope in the shape of a phallus, with the body beautifully decorated in the Dutch wax batik patterns the artist is known for, and the head made of highly polished brass.
Through the opening at the head of the phallus a distorted image of Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ can be seen. Botticelli’s original image depicted the birth of Venus, the goddess of the sea, standing on a shell, the female ideal as the object of mythology and desire. Subverting this familiar image, Shonibare has replaced the female nude by a photograph of a well-endowed naked male. ‘Kaleidoscope’ performs an act of reverse objectification, as the erect phallus and the male nude take the place historically occupied by the female body and therefore take it beyond the familiar realm of the male gaze.
This object can also be seen as a subversive take on 19th century Victoriana, and specifically the ‘peep show’ images of women viewed through devices such as a kaleidoscope.
As with Shonibare’s celebrated work on the Fourth Plinth, ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’, ‘Kaleidoscope’ reclaims an object from a familiar British tradition and subverts it through the bold use of batik patterns and by transforming the shape into that of a phallus.