The American Library by Yinka Shonibare CBE is a celebration of the diversity of the American population and acts as an instigator of discovery and debate. The six thousand books in this art installation are covered in the artists 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, philosophy, art, and literature. Most of these people have also experienced varying degrees of discrimination and hardship during and after their or their familys 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 iPad stations included in this installation visitors are able to access more information about the individuals whose names appear in this library all of whom have benefited from immigration, yet some of whom hold anti-immigration views. Visitors can also elect to contribute their own immigration stories and learn more about immigration and the migrations of large groups of people over the course of this nations history.
Yinka Shonibare CBE: The American Library is co-presented in Louisville by the Speed Art Museum and 21c Museum Hotel. This immersive installation will be on view in the Speed Art Museums original 1927 galleries, in the same room which formerly housed a library during the first decades of the Speeds existence. In addition to The American Library, the exhibition will feature artworks by Shonibare from the Speed and 21c Museum collections including: The Three Graces, (2001), The Age of Enlightenment Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet (2008), Food Faerie (2010) and The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (2008).
The American Library was originally commissioned by the Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art with funds from VIA Art Fund and with the assistance of James Cohan Gallery, New York.
Public Programs at the Speed Art Museum presented in association with The American Library include:
- Friday, March 29, 2019, 6 8 pm: Opening Night. Welcome at 7 pm by Miranda Lash, Curator of Contemporary Art, and Alice Gray Stites, 21c Chief Curator and Museum Director.
- Sunday, April 7, 2019, 2 3:30 pm: Borders and Movement, a two-part community discussion led by the University of Louisville Cultural Centers Hispanic and Latino Initiatives and La Casita Center.
- Part 1: Blanketed Thieves: The Historical Roots of Racist Depictions of the Mexican Body in the Borderlands. Presented by Dr. Katherine Massoth. Dr. Massoths talk will be followed by a discussion led by Sarah C. Nuñez, Assistant Director of the Cultural Center at the University of Louisville and Karina Barillas, Director of La Casita Center, incorporating community members.
- Friday, April 12, 2019, 3 pm: Compas Peer Mentor and Ambassador program hosted by the University of Louisvilles Cultural Centers Hispanic & Latino Initiative Compas. This event is open to the public.
- Friday, April 19, 2013, 5 10 pm: Enjoy the Speeds monthly After Hours at the Speed party exploring themes put forth in The American Library including curator tours, cinema screenings, and performances from community partners at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, ArtFM, and Actors Theatre of Louisville.
- Friday, August 9, 2019, 11 am: Naturalization Ceremony celebrating new citizenship for 100 immigrants in Louisville.
- Sunday, September 8, 2019, 2 3:30 pm: Borders and Movement, a two-part community discussion led by the University of Louisvilles Cultural Centers Hispanic and Latino Initiatives and La Casita Center
- Part 2: U.S. Foreign Policy, Refugees, & Immigrants presented by Dr. Theresa Keeley. Dr. Keeleys talk will be followed by a discussion led by Sarah C. Nuñez, Assistant Director of the Cultural Center at the University of Louisville and Karina Barillas, Director of La Casita Center, incorporating community members.
- Friday, September 13, 6 pm: Gallery talk with Alice Gray Stites and Miranda Lash.
Additional program listings to be announced.
This exhibition is co-presented with 21c Museum Hotel.