The African Library

The African Library by Yinka Shonibare is a commemoration of the fight for independence in the European colonies across the African continent and celebrates the achievements made by Africans since liberation. It consists of an installation of thousands of books covered in the artist’s signature Dutch wax printed cotton textile.

Along the spines of many of these books are printed the names of notable figures from the continent’s past and present. Highlighted are those who supported and fought for independence, including Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Taytu Betul and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti. Other books have the names of preeminent Africans who since self-governance have helped to shape the modern identity of the continent. These names include the Heads of State, both good and bad and the names of Africans and the diaspora who have made a significant contribution to all aspects of African life and culture, from science to music, art, cinema and literature.

The installation includes a website where you can learn more about the people named on the books and access archive footage of notable figures who were instrumental in achieving independence in their country. This part of the installation highlights the aspirations of various leaders to peacefully create a new, independent and unified Africa.

The African Library is inspired by the emancipation of the African continent and the changes which have taken place since the departures of the ruling European powers. It also looks at the ways the continent continues to try and shake off the colonial legacies and emerge as a modern self-governed continent.

This work is on display at Norval Foundation, Cape Town from 13 February until ??? 2019.

Artist's Biography

Yinka Shonibare was born in London in 1962 to Nigerian parents. When he was three years old the family returned to Lagos, where he remained until he was 17. He returned to the UK to study and after his A Levels and he went on to study Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art, London and Goldsmiths College, London, where he received his Master’s in Fine Art.

Over the past decade, Shonibare 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 uses wry citations of Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities.

In 2002, Shonibare was commissioned by Okwui Enwezor to create one of his most recognised installations, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation for Documenta XI. In 2004, he  was nominated for the Turner Prize. In 2008, his mid-career survey commenced at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and toured to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. In 2010, his first public art commission Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle was displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.

In 2013, Shonibare was elected as a Royal Academician and his most recent contributions have included: the RA Family Album, which was used to wrap Burlington Gardens building during construction and his two curated rooms which were part of the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, during which Wind Sculpture VI was also displayed in the RA courtyard.

In January 2019, Yinka Shonibare was awarded the decoration of CBE.

Shonibare’s works are included in notable collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, 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.


About Norval Foundation

The Norval Foundation is a centre for art and cultural expression. They are dedicated to the research and exhibition of 20th- and 21st-century visual art from South Africa and beyond. Located in the Steenberg area of Cape Town, adjacent to Table Mountain National Park, the Norval Foundation combines the experience of art with an appreciation for nature.

The foundation’s Sculpture Garden, outdoor amphitheatre, purpose-built exhibition spaces and research library are situated in a unique setting that offers visitors a multisensory experience. This is complemented by the Skotnes Restaurant and Bar, a bespoke shop and a children’s playground.

Their aim is to create high-quality exhibitions and public programming to broaden our understanding of the visual arts. The Norval Foundation is honoured to be the custodian of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, the Edoardo Villa Estate Collection and the Alexis Preller Archive. Believing that art has the power to enrich our lives and that artists contribute to our communities in a profound way.

The Norval family are the founders and initial funders of the Norval Foundation. Their aim is to make art widely accessible to local and international visitors by creating a self-sustaining centre for art. The proceeds from capital donations will be used to secure the foundation for future generations.