Would Nelson think it’s art?

Posted by Claire Percy, Senior Marketing Executive for History

Last summer, some of us watched the 100 day human art project unfold on the fourth plinth of Trafagar Square, London. 2,400 plinthers chosen by ballot, each had an hour to fill the time and space as they chose, representing their charity, performing their art or in some cases…sleeping! As you’d expect, there was much debate over its creator’s claim to be art!

Last week, Trafagar Square’s fourth plinth was occupied more permanently, as navy scholars, art historians and enthusiasts noted the arrival of ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ by artist Yinka Shonibare.

Commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar, it’s a replica of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in a giant glass bottle. At a glance, it could be deemed much more traditional than the 2009 project, and as we know it’s common for art to commemorate war, but it’s debatable whether this can actually be called a replica, as by defintion it isn’t. For example, the materials chosen for this sculpture are symbolic of African identity, and tell the story of British colonialism, trade and empire. The fabric is based on the Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch and sold to the West African colonies. ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ gives both naval and art historians, much to think about.


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