Meet the artist who connects different cultures and reveals hidden histories
The British Library is an installation artwork by Yinka Shonibare. An installation is an artwork that is so big you might need to walk through it. Usually it is made for a specific place.
This installation is a library made up of over 6,000 books covered in fabric. This fabric is brightly coloured and Shonibare uses it a lot in his work. It is called ‘Dutch wax print’ and it has a complicated history.
In The British Library, Shonibare printed people's names in gold on some of the books. They are all first or second generation immigrants to Britain. An immigrant is someone who has left one country to live in another.
Shonibare chose to add the names of famous footballers and authors, as well as people who are not well known.
If you were in the installation you might see some names you recognise! There is also a table with tablets. If you visit the artwork you can read more about the stories of the people whose names are printed on the books. You can also use the tablets to submit your own personal history for people to read.
The books in the library represent many different family histories. This artwork asks us to think about all the families who have come to Britain. Why did they come? It could be big reasons (like the economy or politics or war) affecting the country they are leaving, or more personal reasons to do with their family.
This work makes us think about identity. What does it mean to be British? How can we celebrate the importance of immigrants to British society? Who writes our collective history down? What stories should we keep in a library? Is a library the best place to keep our history?
What do you think? Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers.
This artwork is definitely meant to make you think, and the questions it asks us to consider are not always easy!