Book as Biography: The British Library, Yinka Shonibare

The British Library is a large and colourful artwork by Yinka Shonibare which comprises a huge collection of specially bound reclaimed books covered in vibrant Dutchwax fabric and embossed in gold with the names of notable British figures who were born outside the UK or have non-British ancestry.

Yinka Shonibare, ‘The British Library’ – book detail. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017

The volume of books and the number of well-known names is surprising, drawing our attention to the rich and expansive impact migrants have had on British daily life and culture, a debt that sometimes seems overlooked to me.

The boldness of the colours give this library a vibrant character and otherworldly air – it would contrast dramatically with the subdued aged muted volumes that populate the collection of the real British Library.

Yinka Shonibare, ‘The British Library’ – shelves. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017

The colours are appealing and the weight of each tome makes me want to reach out to leaf through it, to get to know the characters that these represent. The books themselves are described as reclaimed – stripped of their covers the library would tell a dramatically different story, but an undoubtedly diverse one in the way that all library collections are.

Yinka Shonibare, ‘The British Library’ – book shelves. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017

It’s important that the objects are books, as it is no stretch to imagine these as biographies or accounts of the individuals named on their spines.

Yinka Shonibare, ‘The British Library’ – catalogue. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017


Further reading:

Viva Arte Viva: 57th International Art Exhibition La Biennale Di Venezia by Christine Macel, Rizzoli  International Publications, 2017

Yinka Shonibare MBE by Rachel Ken, Prestel, 2013