The British Library

‘The British Library’ by Yinka Shonibare MBE is a celebration of the diversity of the British population. This presentation transforms the space into a place of discovery and debate. It consists of an installation of thousands of books covered in the artist’s signature Dutch wax printed cotton textile. On the spines of many of these books are printed the names of notable first and second generation immigrants and incoming migrants to Britain who have moved here throughout history. These names include Winston Churchill, Prince Philip and Dame Helen Mirren. These immigrants and incoming migrants have all made a significant contribution to aspects of British life and culture, from science to music, art, cinema and literature. Other books feature names of prominent figures who have opposed immigration at various times. The installation also includes tablets through which you can learn more about the people named on the books and access information looking at immigration from pro-immigration, anti-immigration and neutral viewpoints. The space gives a voice to both those who have objected to British immigration and those 'foreigners' who have made a valuable contribution to the nation’s history.

Examples of the reasons for immigration can vary from global conflicts to economic factors. Whilst the project is a celebration of the ongoing contributions made to British society by people who have arrived here from other parts of the world or whose ancestors came to Britain as immigrants, it does not exclude the points of view of those who object to it. ‘The British Library' is inspired by the debates about immigration, such as the impact of the refugee crisis and conversations about freedom of movement in the European Union.

This work was originally commissioned by HOUSE 2014 and Brighton Festival and shown at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 2014. The material on the tablets has been updated since its original exhibition to include more up to date conversations about immigration.

Artist's Biography

Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) was born in London in 1962 and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to the UK to study Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art, London and Goldsmiths College, London, where he received his Master’s in Fine Art.

Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. Working in painting, sculpture, photography, film and installation, Shonibare’s work examines race, class and the construction of cultural identity through a sharp political commentary of the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Shonibare uses wry citations of Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities.

In 2002, Shonibare was commissioned by Okwui Enwezor to create one of his most recognised installations,  Gallantry and Criminal Conversation for Documenta XI. In 2004, he was nominated for the Turner Prize and was awarded the decoration of Member of the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’, or MBE. In 2008, his mid-career survey commenced at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. In 2010, his first public art commission Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle was displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.

In 2013, Shonibare was elected as a Royal Academician and has since regularly contributed to The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He curated two rooms for the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, during which Wind Sculpture VI was also displayed in the RA courtyard. In 2016 he created the RA Family Album, which was used to wrap Burlington Gardens building during construction.

Shonibare’s works are included in notable collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome and VandenBroek Foundation, The Netherlands.