Un Ballo in Maschera


Yinka Shonibare, M.B.E. ( British, 1962 )

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General Description

This film is based on Giuseppe Verdi's opera Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball). Enlisting the talents of choreographers, costumers, and filmmakers, Yinka Shonibare reset Verdi's tale of intrigue in the court of Swedish King Gustav III (r. 1771-1792) as a beguiling meditation on power, colonialism, and the fusion of European and African cultures. The film follows an evening at court, where an ebullient king (played here by a woman) hosts a ball at which glamorous assassins lurk. After a striking sequence of dance (performed without music, as is the entire film), the king is shot in a fantastically stylized passage, and then comes back to life as the actors re-play events backwards to the very beginning. The dancers are costumed in European 18th century-style dresses made from colorful print fabrics that are associated with Africa, but actually have Dutch colonial origins. Shonibare weaves histories and identities, exploring power, excess, and the fabrication of authenticity. Un Ballo in Maschera was produced with Swedish Television and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Adapted from

  • Anna Katherine Brodbeck, ed., TWO X TWO X TWENTY: Two Decades Supporting Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art), 2018.

  • "A Masked Ball (Un ballo maschera) [sic]," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Bonnie Pitman (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 346.

  • Charles Wylie, DMA unpublished material, 2008.

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