Shonibare is interested in cultural identity, cultural exchange, and how things that symbolise one culture can have a hidden multicultural history – particularly as a result of colonial relations. In this sculpture, there’s the batik fabric (dyed with a wax-resist to make the patterns exceptionally bright) which has come to broadly symbolise Africa, but is traditionally made in Indonesia, produced in Holland and sold in West Africa. There’s also the Victorian-style telescope, clothes, chair and globe: reminders of British colonial history.
Cheeky Little Astronomer was commissioned for an exhibition at the Astronomer Royal's apartments in Flamsteed House (part of the Royal Observatory Greenwich). The house was built in 1675 for the Astronomer Royal and his family, a post established by King Charles II to instruct the monarch on astronomy. The figure was placed perching on his household chair facing the window, as if observing the atmosphere with his telescope, so that imagination and wonder are paired with the practicalities of daily life. Shonibare says the sculpture “also evokes magic. Looking into the stars, there’s something aspirational, forward-looking and magical about the piece”.
Shonibare has made a number of works with figures with globes for heads. The figures sometimes take the poses of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, which Shonibare explains is to create a juxtaposition between iconic Western high culture, and the universal, inclusivity of the globe.