African waxprints are one of my passions. A recent acquisition by the Tate Modern is a piece called ‘The British Library’, which uses such waxprints.
The Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare covered thousands of books in these joyful fabrics that were developed originally by Dutch traders for the Indonesian market. They flopped in Asia but were enthusiastically adopted by west African countries. Born from colonialism and a cheap fake, they have been transformed into a symbol of identity and pride.
The work is the artist’s comment on immigration into Britain, its contribution to culture as well as the opposition to it. Names of immigrants and others are printed on the spine of the books. The bookcases lining the large room surround a desk where visitors are invited to find out about all these people who contributed to the colourful mix that is Britain.
In a way so do the visitors themselves. The picture above features an immigrant and was taken by an immigrant who have each brought their own histories when they integrated into the British community.