Arts and Culture

A new exhibition opened this weekend at the Speed Museum that explores the political and cultural debate in the U.S. surrounding immigration. The exhibit is a collaboration with 21c.

“The American Library” was created by Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, and it is a display of over 6,000 specially-bound books with some familiar names on the spines: Steve Jobs, Bruce Lee, Joni Mitchell, Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Carl Stokes, Donald Trump, and Tiger Woods — to name a few.

While the books themselves are empty (though there is a website visitors can access within the gallery that gives a biography of each individual on the shelves), the covers are decorated in colorful Dutch-wax cotton; a fabric that, due to colonization in Africa, is used often in African textiles.

And the names on the spines of the books are those of people who fall into the following categories: people who have immigrated to the U.S.; people whose parents immigrated to the U.S.; African Americans who relocated — or whose parents relocated — during the Great Migration; and finally, people who have spoken out against immigration or diversity.

In an emailed statement, 21c curator Alice Gray Stites wrote: “In the face of the growing refugee crisis and resistance to immigration across the globe, we feel an urgency to share this work that celebrates the spectrum of voices that have created our nation’s culture and history, while simultaneously acknowledging that there are others who have spoken out against diversity.

Sties said she hopes the exhibition will provide opportunities to better understand the complexity of current conversations surrounding immigration and diversity.

“The American Library” will run through September 2019.

More information can be found here.