The African Library (2018) is considered to be one of the Yinka Shonibare CBE's most significant installations to date. A major body of work which encapsulates three libraries, was made over a period of several years to address ideas of migration, citizenship and home across three Continents. The British Library (2014), now held in the permanent collection TATE, The American Library (2018) held in the Rennie Collection and displayed in museums across North America and The African Library - produced for his first Institutional exhibition by Yinka Shonibare CBE to be presented on the Continent at the Norval Foundation Cape Town.
The African Library consists of six thousand books wrapped in Dutch wax print fabric and embossed with the names of the personalities who shaped the formation of Africa in the post colonial period. Arranged on rows of shelving, the library can be researched in an adjacent study space where viewers can access a microsite, to learn more about the people named in the library and understand their contribution to the formation of the Continent as we know it today.
The colonial adventures in Africa were followed by independence struggles across the continent, the many personalities that made that possible are explored in The African Library. In particular, the library gathers the various figures who have made a significant contribution to the independence struggles across the European colonies in Africa. It highlights significant figures from Kwame Nkruma to Nelson Mandela involved in the struggle for independence. It pays attention to the role of women and European allies who supported the struggle for African emancipation. The Library seeks to present a balanced list of those involved in the struggle listing all the European personalities residing in Europe and Africa who were pro-African, alongside all African presidents since independence (good or bad) and famous Africans in a variety of disciplines including Literature, Science, Music, Art - thus celebrating African agency and freedom since independence. The library format of the work also addresses how knowledge is generated, stored and disseminated, questions which are now particularly relevance in the digital age.
Shonibare has become known for his work incorporating ‘Dutch wax print’ fabrics across a range of different media. The fabric is sold widely across Africa and in markets elsewhere which cater to the African diaspora, but was originally produced in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. Based on traditional wax-resist fabrics made in Indonesia, nineteenth-century Dutch merchants originally saw an opportunity to mechanise its production for export to the Dutch East Indies. By the 1930s there was a booming trade in West and Central Africa for the ‘wax hollandais’, with designs being adapted to local tastes. Within a short period the imported product became a part of African cultural heritage, with unique designs being commissioned for family celebrations and more public commemorations. By incorporating this fabric into his work, Shonibare highlights the contradictions of colonisation and histories of cultural hybridity, while bringing to the fore questions of cultural appropriation, identity and nationalism.
Following its presentation on the Continent, The African Library has been most recently included in the Artist's major mid career survey at Museum de Moderne, Salzburg in 2021 where it is illustrated in the accompanying publication.
The African Library presents a singular opportunity to acquire a defining work of art history; exploring the complex themes of immigration, national identity and emancipation. A major installation of this scale is incredibly rare to come to the market, thus presenting an unparalleled occasion to consider it as a cornerstone for a landmark collection.
Access the African Library index and video resource and read about the personalities included in the African Library here.
‘Yinka Shonibare CBE: End of Empire’, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, 2021
‘Trade Winds: Yinka Shonibare CBE’, Norval Foundation, Cape Town, 2019
‘Ruins Decorated', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2018
Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (b. London, UK, 1962) 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 Masters in Fine Art.
In 2022, Shonibare unveiled three major sculptural works in Stockholm, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. In recent years, he has unveiled Wind Sculptures at Norval Foundation in Cape Town (2019) and Central Park, New York (2018). Shonibare’s first public art commission, titled Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, was displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2010 and was acquired by London’s National Maritime Museum.
Current and recent survey exhibitions and retrospectives include Yinka Shonibare CBE: Planets in My Head (1 April – 31 October 2022) at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Michigan and Yinka Shonibare CBE: End of Empire at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg (22 May 2021 – 3 October 2021). Shonibare’s 2008 mid-career survey travelled from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney to the Brooklyn Museum in New York as well as the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
Major awards include the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award 2021 and Shonibare was honoured as ‘Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ in 2019. Shonibare was also nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004, and in 2002, he created one of his most recognised installations, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation for Documenta XI.
Notable museum collections include: Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town; Norval Foundation, Cape Town; Tate, London; the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.