On Tuesday, British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare unveiled two installations in Turner Contemporary in Margate, both exploring cultural identity, immigration and colonialism with his signature Batik print fabrics. 6,500 books covered in bright, patterned cotton fill row upon row of shelves in the ground floor Sunley Gallery, the spines of which are emblazoned with the names of first or second-generation immigrants who have had significant cultural contributions to British society, from T.S. Eliot to Zaha Hadid.
As much as they relate to British and colonial history, the looming EU referendum and the current refugee crisis mean both works also manage to feel timely.
An installation originally shown in the Old Reference Library in Brighton in 2014, The British Library is exhibited alongside a new work, End of Empire, as part of the 14-18 NOW programme. Shonibare’s new sculpture has two figures with globes for heads, dressed in the same bright fabrics as the surrounding cloth-bound books – prints originally introduced to African countries by Dutch colonialists and now mistaken as indigenous – seated on a Victorian seesaw.
Yinka Shonibare’s End of Empire and The British Library are on show at Turner Contemporary, Margate until 30 October.