13 rooms in Artist and Society
The British Library highlights the impact of immigration on British culture and invites visitors to join in the discussion
Yinka Shonibare CBE was born, studied and lives in London, but grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2019 and has added the title to his professional name. His dual identity as British-Nigerian has been the starting point for much of his work. This is particularly true for The British Library, which contains more than 6,000 books.
Printed in gold on the spines of 2,700 of the books are the names of first or second-generation immigrants to Britain. Whether celebrated or lesser known, they have all made significant contributions to British culture and history. There are also books with the names of those who have opposed immigration. Other books are unmarked, suggesting that the story of immigration in Britain is still being written.
The books are bound in African wax print fabric, the artist’s signature material. The history of this fabric reveals a complex relationship between colonialism, cultural appropriation and national identity. It was developed in the nineteenth century in the Netherlands as a mass-produced imitation of the batik dyeing process used in Indonesia, a Dutch colony at the time. The cheaper, machine-made textiles were poorly received in Indonesia. In West and Central Africa, however, they were quickly adopted and absorbed into local traditions.
An important part of the installation is a website, which can be accessed from the tablets. It contains recent materials selected by the artist to present different viewpoints relating to immigration. You are invited to submit your own story, and a selection of visitors’ responses will be available to view on the website.
Yinka Shonibare CBE, The British Library 2014
The British Library 2014 is an installation of 6,328 hardback books individually covered in colourful ‘Dutch wax print’ fabric and arranged on rows of shelving. Names are printed in gold leaf on the spines of 2,700 of the books, the majority of which are of first- or second-generation immigrants to Britain, both celebrated and lesser-known, who have made significant contributions to British culture and history. Among names such as Hans Holbein, Zadie Smith, Dame Helen Mirren and Danny Welbeck, the names of those who have opposed immigration also appear, including Nigel Farage and Oswald Mosley. Adjacent to the bookshelves is a study space with tablets, where viewers are able to access the artwork’s website (http://thebritishlibraryinstallation.com), learn more about the people named on the books, and review materials selected by the artist that represent different perspectives on immigration. Visitors are also invited to submit their own stories using the tablets, and a selection of these responses is made available on the website. The books can be installed in purpose-built bookshelves to any configuration, or in existing bookshelves.
artworks in Yinka Shonibare CBE
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