Tate Modern has acquired “The British Library”. Created by Yinka Shonibare, the installation highlights immigration’s influence on British culture. It is a place-specific installation and features thousands of books that celebrate the British population’s diversity, wherein books are arranged upon rows of shelves. There is an area for people to access details on each project on tablet screens.
This has been part of the permanent collection of Tate Modern for a while now, and is open to the general public for free. As per a Tate Modern press release, the art gallery walls are filled with shelves of exactly 6,328 books. Upwards of 2,700 books out of 6,328 are the names of the first and second generation immigrants to the UK who have made substantial contributions to the nation’s history and culture.
The list of immigrant names includes multitalented singer Alesha Dixon, actor Alan Rickman (known for playing an iconic “Die Hard” movie villain), actor Lionel Blair, singer Liam Gallagher, and DJ Zane Lowe. Dixon was born to a Jamaican father, Gallagher’s parents are Irish, Blair was born in Canada, Smith has a Jamaican mother, Low was born in New Zealand, and Rickman was of Irish descent. The list also features names of people who need little to no introduction, such as Dido and Winston Churchill, to name two.
There are printed works with names of those who opposed immigration, like for instance, Oswald Mosley, Paul Nuttall, Norman Tebbit, Patricia Skitmore, Patrick Moore, and Richard Littlejohn. Several books lack names, which suggests, said Yinka Shonibare, that the British immigration story is still being written.
Shonibare’s work was first displayed at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s “Old Reference Library” as part of the Brighton festival in 2014. Since 2014, it has been shown at the Turner Contemporary gallery, and in the 2017 Venice Biennale’s Diaspora Pavilion.
Yinka Shonibare said the recent purchase was Tate Modern’s continuation of support for artists that “tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time. The British Library is an exploration of the diversity of British identity through a conceptually poetic lens. I look forward to the public engagement with the work.”
Tate Modern acquired “The British Library” with the Art Fund’s support. The installation includes tablet screens which those on Tate Modern tours can use to see the names on the books. People can submit their immigrant stories on The British Library website, and selected entries will be published on it.