British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s book-based tribute to British diversity has found its way into Tate Modern’s permanent collection. The British Library is now on display at Britain’s most visited gallery.
Consisting of thousands of books bound in Dutch wax print, the installation is supported by a digital platform which allows readers to submit their own stories of the impact that migration has had on British culture, society, and history.
2,700 of the books have had their spines transformed, with the names of notable first and second generation immigrants to the UK printed in gold leaf, creating an onomastic overview of British history which takes in everyone from Hans Holbein to Dame Helen Mirren.
A statement on the installation’s website notes: “Whilst the project is a celebration of the ongoing contributions made to British society by people who have arrived here from other parts of the world or whose ancestors came to Britain as immigrants, it does not exclude the points of view of those who object to it.”
This isn’t the first time that Shonibare’s bibliophile biography of Britain has been on display. It was first exhibited at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 2014 and transferred to Margate’s Turner Contemporary in 2016.
6,328 books is a lot of books, by the way. If we work on the assumption that the average book is 250 pages long, and that the average reader takes two minutes to read a page, then the average time it takes the average reader to read the average book – provided the reader does nothing but read – is eight and a half hours. Which means that the average reader would take 53,788 hours to get through Yinka’s collection. 53,788 hours is 2151 days. 2151 days is just shy of six years.