Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA)

The American Library

'The American Library' 2018 at Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, July 14 - September 30

The American Library, 2018

Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, July 14 - September 30

https://www.theamericanlibraryinstallation.com

 

The American Library by Yinka Shonibare MBE is a celebration of the diversity of the American population. It aims to be an instigator of discovery and debate. The thousands of books in this art installation are covered in the artist’s signature Dutch wax printed cotton textile. These fabrics were originally based on Indonesian batik textiles, made in the Netherlands and sold in West Africa. Since the 1960s this fabric has been celebrated as a symbol of African identity. The mixed origins of the fabric make it a perfect metaphor for the multicultural identity embedded in the history of the United States.

On the spines of many of these books are, printed in gold, the names of people who immigrated, or whose antecedents immigrated to the United States. On other books are the names of African Americans who relocated or whose parents relocated out of the American South during the Great Migration. These names 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. These people have all made a significant contribution to aspects of American life and culture and represent every field from science to activism, music to philosophy and art to literature. Most of these people have also experienced varying degrees of discrimination and hardship during and after their or their family’s relocation. A further set of books within the library features the names of people who have spoken out against immigration, equality or diversity in America.

Through the website included in this installation you can learn more about the reasons for the migration of large groups of people and access content looking at immigration and internal mass migration from pro, anti and neutral viewpoints. Further information about the individuals named on the books is also available on this site.

The American Library is inspired by the ongoing debates about immigration and diversity in the United States, such as the discussion around the travel ban and the proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border to reduce immigration. It also looks at the discrimination against certain groups within the United States, despite their contributions to the country.

This installation asks us to consider what our society would be without the gifts that America’s immigrant populations and minority groups have brought to this land. It represents those seen as the ‘other’ who have made a valuable contribution to the nation’s history. However, it also looks at the people who have spoken out against those they don’t see as ‘truly American’ as a way to further explore these complex issues at the forefront of American life today.

This work was commissioned by Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art with funds from VIA Art Fund and with the assistance of James Cohan Gallery, New York. It is on display at Cleveland Public Library from July 14 until September 20, 2018.

 

FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art

FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art is an exhibition comprised of artist commissions, performances, films, and public programs that will launch its inaugural edition in July of 2018. An American City: Eleven Cultural Exercises, in collaboration with museums, civic institutions, and alternative spaces across Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin, will showcase an ambitious roster of projects, including performance and theater throughout the landscape and built environment. With a roster of national, international and area-based artists at all points in their career, FRONT will examine the ever-changing and politically urgent conditions of an American city.

 

 

 
©2018. All images are property of Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA).