Shonibare is a British artist, born to Nigerian parents. He was raised in Nigeria and returned to England for college, where he still resides. A finalist for the Turner Prize, Shonibare earned his MFA from Goldsmiths College. His work has been widely exhibited and collected, including by prestigious institutions such as the Tate, Victoria and Albert Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, MoMA, the National Gallery of Canada, among others. He is known for works that incorporate unique patterns based on Dutch wax textiles. Originally designed by the Dutch as an attempt to imitate Indonesian-style batiks, these factory-printed textiles were sold into the African markets where they have become synonymous with African identity – to the extent that many (falsely) believe they originated on the continent.
The artist was on-campus between November 12 and November 15, 2018. The exhibition will remain on view from October 25 – December 14, 2018.
The artist’s project, The American Library, and much of his conversation on campus focused around immigration. “The American Library” is a collection of 6,000 books displayed on custom-built shelves and bound in the artist’s signature, brightly colored Dutch wax cloth. On the spines of the books are the gold embossed names of individuals, both celebrated and less well known, who have made unique contributions to American culture.
These names represent immigrants or descendants of immigrants to the U.S., including Thomas Edison, Noam Chomsky, Steve Jobs, Edgar Allan Poe, Andy Warhol, Betty Friedan, Ariana Hufflngton, WEB Dubois, Cesar Chavez, Jean – Michel Basquiat, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chinua Acheba.
Shonibare’s ‘The American Library” reflects the significant contributions that people who have come to the United States have made to the culture and life of their adopted land and asks us to consider the issue of global migration and where would we be as a society without the rich gifts of our immigrant populations. By also including the names of those who have spoken out against immigration, equality or diversity, Shonibare instigates and stimulates debate around those issues.
There was a web component of the work, accessible on iPads in the exhibition. A list of all the names on the books with information about their country of origin (all are first and second generation) and their field; video documentation culled from the news and other sources about immigration, refugees, diversity and other timely reports; and a section where visitors can share their own stories of their immigration journey.