On view October 30, 2018 through January 6, 2019

Yinka Shonibare MBE: The American Library Collection (Activists)
Yinka Shonibare MBE, The American Library Collection (Activists), 2017. 234 Hardback books, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, gold foiled names, bookcase.

The Mead recently acquired and will display The American Library Collection (Activists), a large-scale installation piece by the Britain-born, Nigeria-raised artist Yinka Shonibare MBE. This is the first artwork by Shonibare in the Mead’s collection; it will be on view as part of the fourth iteration of the Rotherwas Project series that situates contemporary art in the museum’s 17th-century oak-paneled room.

Bound in his signature brightly colored Dutch wax printed fabric, Shonibare’s selection of 234 books tells a specific story of how knowledge is organized and disseminated. The spines of the books are emblazoned in gold with the names of activists, who include artists, musicians, academics, and writers. Many of them are immigrants or the children of immigrants, while others have spoken against immigration, diversity, and equality. Shelved together, they draw attention to the rich debates that emerge across time and cultures.

In addition to the wrapped books, the collection comes with a bookshelf designed by the artist and a card catalog of names from the included books. The work is an extension of the artist’s 2017 series The American Library Collection, which included other groupings, such as (Politicians)(Filmmakers), and (Scientists).

Shonibare was born in London in 1962 and 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 Master’s in Fine Art. He has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. Working in painting, sculpture, photography, film and installation, Shonibare’s work examines race, class and the construction of cultural identity through a sharp political commentary of the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories.

Shonibare’s works are included in art museum collections around the world, including: the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome and VandenBroek Foundation, The Netherlands.

Related Events

These events take place at the Mead Art Museum. All are FREE and open to the public.

Opening Reception
Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018 | 5–7 pm
5–6 pm |
Leah C. Schmalzbauer, William R. Kenan professor of American Studies and Sociology, will moderate a debate among Amherst College faculty on the subject of the global migration of people, commodities and ideas, for which the Shonibare work will serve as the starting point. The debate—which will serve as a model for how students can facilitate constructive discussion of sensitive topics—will bring together faculty from American studies, economics, political science, and other disciplines.
6–7 pm |

Gallery Talk with David E. Little
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 | Noon–1 pm

Join Mead Director and Chief Curator David E. Little to learn more about this exhibition.

Support for the acquisition was provided by the William K. Allison ’20 Memorial Art Fund, the Wise Fund for Fine Arts, the Mead Art Acquisitions Fund, and the Charles H. Morgan Fine Arts Fund.