‘The American Library' by Yinka Shonibare CBE is a celebration of the diversity of the American population and acts as an instigator of discovery and debate. The six thousand books in this art installation are covered in the artist's signature Dutch wax printed cotton textile. Based on Indonesian batik textiles, which were originally made in the Netherlands and sold to colonies in West Africa, this fabric has since been re-appropriated as a celebration of African identity and history. Its mixed origins make it a central component of Shonibare's works that celebrate the multiculturalism of the United States.
Printed in gold on the spine of each of these books are the names of celebrated individuals who immigrated (or whose antecedents immigrated) to the United States, or of African-Americans who relocated, (or whose parents relocated) from the American South during the Great Migration. Selected for their significant contribution to American life and culture or for their courage in speaking out against inequality in America, most of these individuals have also experienced discrimination and hardship during or after their relocation.
Names featured include W. E. B. Du Bois, Maria Goeppert Mayer, Steve Jobs, Bruce Lee, Ana Mendieta, Joni Mitchell, Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Carl Stokes, Donald Trump and Tiger Woods. Using the ipads included in the installation, visitors can access further information about the individuals whose names appear in the installation, learn more about the history of immigration, and even contribute their own stories and views of immigration.
‘Yinka Shonibare CBE: The American Library' is co-presented in Louisville by the Speed Art Museum and 21c Museum Hotel. This immersive installation will be on view in the Speed Art Museum's original 1927 galleries, in the same room which formerly housed a library during the first decades of the Speed's existence. In addition to The American Library, the exhibition will feature artworks by Shonibare from the Speed and 21c Museum collections including: The Three Graces, (2001), The Age of Enlightenment - Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet (2008), Food Faerie (2010) and The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (2008).
‘The American Library' was originally commissioned by the Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art with funds from VIA Art Fund and with the assistance of James Cohan Gallery, New York.