Creatures of the Mappa Mundi

Contemporary art exhibition, 21 January – 1 June 2019

Meadow Arts and Hereford Cathedral are working in partnership to commission a new artwork, inspired by the Mappa Mundi, by highly esteemed artist Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA).

Displayed next to the Cathedral’s Chained Library, the Hereford Mappa Mundi is the largest medieval world map to survive. One of its most remarkable features is that it is illustrated with strange people and animals, drawn by artists from the exaggerated descriptions of travellers to far off lands. Shonibare has been inspired by the map and its alien creatures to create a new work for Herefordshire, which will be on show from late January to June 2019.

Illustrated on the map are various creatures, natural and supernatural, including camels, elephants and unicorns. The more human-like creatures are sometimes outrageous in form, for example the Blemmye; a warrior race of people with no heads and facial features in their chests, or the Sciapods, a race with one giant leg and foot each.

Creatures of the Mappa Mundi will explore what Shonibare refers to as, “Two of the most pressing concerns of our time, environmental protection and immigration. Inspired by the ability of the Mappa Mundi to still be reflecting our contemporary concerns of fear of the stranger or “other” which often leads to xenophobia. The depictions of extinct creatures of legend are a reminder that we may yet become extinct if we do not take care of our environment.”

The exhibition will contain a series of textile works, depicting various creatures and strangers from the map. These new works will feature the vibrant Dutch-wax fabrics that have become iconic of Shonibare’s work. Each piece will have been made with the help of different groups of people across the county, including those linked to the Hereford River Carnival, Media SHYPP and Hereford Refugee Action.

Director of Meadow Arts, Anne de Charmant, says, “Meadow Arts are thrilled to be working with Yinka Shonibare, whose work is famous across the world and delighted that he has found inspiration for a new project in Hereford. It is an honour to be able to work with Studio Shonibare and even more so here in the regions, away from the more usual art ‘scene’.

Hereford Cathedral Librarian, Rosemary Firman, says, “The Hereford Mappa Mundi has been a source of inspiration and wonder for over 700 years. It is always exciting for us to engage with new interpretations of the Map and we feel very privileged to be able to host Shonibare’s new artwork.”

Creatures of the Mappa Mundi will be on display within Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi & Chained Library and normal admission charges will apply.

Image Credit: Yinka Shonibare MBE_Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London photographer Marcus Leith 2014