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A Dandiacal Transcendence Of The Victorian Era

1823 words - 8 pages

Yinka Shonibare’s five-part image narration Diary of a Victorian Dandy exhibited in the London Underground invites public transit users to partake in the daily lifestyle of a black Victorian dandy. The irony inherent in the presence of a black dandy as the work’s centerpiece dismisses the functionality of British restrictions set in the Victorian Era by delving into the notions of race and social class. Specifically, by emphasizing the black dandy’s superiority over his white counterparts and introducing a harmonic interplay between lower and upper-tier social classes, Shonibare makes evident to public viewers that Victorian norms favouring upper-class society were not static and could have been transcended in both a racial and social context.

Shonibare’s ironic inclusion of a black dandy in his work dismisses popular Victorian racial norms. Within a colonial society, black people were commonly mistreated which led to the creation of many racial norms as a means of favouring the interests of white people. For instance, Shonibare tackles the assumed inferiority of the black race in “11:00 hours” where four white maids and a white butler attend to the dandy’s needs in bed. This scene is reflective of dandyism, as Beau Brummell has his own personal butler in Beau Brummell: This Charming Man who loyally serves him. Looking at Beau Brummell presents the dandy as one who obtains the devoted servitude of others. “11:00 hours” captures this trait perfectly, as the maids and butler wear worrisome expressions on their faces while meticulously attending to the black dandy. Their body language suggests that they willingly cast their loyalty to the black man’s needs, characterizing the presence of dandyism within this frame. However, this scene proves to be ironic because the racial roles are reversed. As a result of British colonization, black servants became assets “to be shown off as evidence of exotic wealth” for the English aristocracy (The Black Victorians). Essentially, black servants were medals to validate and glorify the importance of the bourgeoisie due to British expansion which is a clear case of inferiority. Contrarily, Shonibare communicates to the viewers that the stereotyped inferiority of the black race during the Victorian Era was not absolute. Though rare, black people could have transcended this racial norm because “11:00 hours” proposes that there is no evidence suggesting that they were less capable than white folks. In another case, Shonibare addresses the norm that the black race was more primitive than its white counterpart. Victorian Britain became more racist when Darwin’s theory on evolution gave all races a shared primitive ancestry (race and racism). As an add-on, scientific and technological superiority became the prime indicator of racial superiority, and Britain fit this category due to its massive colonial expansions and development in weaponry (race and racism). These advancements led to the belief that...

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