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Cannonball Heaven

  • 30 March 2024
  • 24 April 2024
  • Kasteel Helmond

Cannonball Heaven

Yinka Shonibare CBE

The beautiful work Cannonball Heaven by the British-African artist Yinka Shonibare CBE can now be seen in Helmond Castle in the Ridderzaal until Wednesday 24 April. We are showing this special work of art especially during the national Museum Week. The work comes from the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art and was purchased in 2017 with the support of the Association of Friends and the Mondriaan Fund.

Please note: due to several events in the Ridderzaal in the period up to and including April 24, the artwork cannot be seen on the following dates and times: April 12 12:00 – 1:00 PM, April 13 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM , April 16 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, April 19 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM, April 25 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM and May 5 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

Colonial times

Cannonball Heaven (2011) refers to colonial times, but also draws a parallel to current society. The work consists of a cannon and two figures or naval officers, who together fire cannonballs at a corner of the room. There you can see a large mountain with cannonballs made of batik fabrics. The cannon is a replica of the ones that sailed on the HMS Victory, which was the ship with which British Admiral Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Because the cannonballs are made of fabric, like a kind of toy, the power of a world empire is neutralized and softened. In that sense it is an impossible situation: war is suggested, but it does not succeed. The power, symbolized by these fabric cannonballs, is impotent.

War and conflict

The work criticizes the reasons why war is waged. Yinka Shonibare states that wars are rarely actually fought to improve human rights, as is often given as a reason. The reference to HMS Victory is therefore a concrete example of British power over the sea, where the most important trade was conducted. In reality, these wars were usually fought to secure power and territorial control, or for economic agendas. This illustrates the topicality of Yinka Shonibare’s work. He draws parallels between the present and the past. The urge to expand from the past is also reflected in our time, resulting in wars, flows of refugees and other humanitarian crises. Shonibare makes us aware of these motives and their consequences and questions them. His work thus functions as a starting point for discussions on current topics.

Cannonball Heaven essentially refers not only to the colonial history of Great Britain, but also to that of countries such as Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Through his friendly and sometimes humorous approach, Shonibare often manages to win the viewer over to his art.

Historic location

Shonibare is a British-Nigerian (European-African) artist. The history and traditions of both countries are central to Shonibare’s work, as is the confusion that can arise. For example, the Vlisco fabrics remind us of Africa, but are a Dutch invention (and at the same time based on Indonesian batik technique). And so Shonibare’s key work ‘Cannonball heaven’ (2011) also enters into a conversation with Helmond history. The work is exhibited in a historic location: the Knights’ Hall of Helmond Castle, located a fabric cannonball’s distance from the Vlisco textile factory.


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