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Skirball Cultural Center

Browse artist Yinka Shonibare’s immersive installation The American Library, where six thousand books are wrapped in textiles with the names of US immigrants and Black Americans affected by the Great Migration. Learn about their impact and share your own story.





$18 General 
$13 Seniors, Full-Time Students with ID, and Children 2–17
FREE to Members and Children under 2 
FREE to all on Thursdays

General Admission tickets provide visitors access to all exhibitions on view at the Skirball, including The American Library. Visitors who would like to board Noah’s Ark, which requires timed entry, should purchase a separate Noah's Ark ticket (which also includes general admission access).

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About the Exhibition

An imaginative portrait of a nation, The American Library by internationally recognized artist Yinka Shonibare explores how ideas of citizenship, home, and nationalism hold complex meanings.  

This exhibition creates a library setting where the shelves are filled with more than six thousand books individually wrapped in Shonibare’s signature Dutch wax-printed cotton textiles. Each book bears a name on its spine of a notable American individual. First- and second-generation immigrants and Black Americans affected by the Great Migration are featured alongside one another. A further set of books features the names of people who have spoken against immigration, equality, or diversity in America.

This juxtaposition touches on current debates about immigration. Viewers are invited to consider the varied people and cultural sources that inform our sense of history and culture, and thus shape our own sense of belonging. 

As part of the Skirball’s presentation of The American Library, visitors of all ages will have opportunities to share and reflect on their own families’ immigration stories. The exhibition includes iPad stations to learn more about the people named in the library, an interactive bookshelf for guests to add their name and share their story, a display of Dutch wax fabrics for visitors to touch, and an animated short film about the artist that was designed for children.

The American Library is part of an ongoing library series by Shonibare that explores patterns of migration and cultural exchange; past works include The British Library and The African Library. 

About the Artist

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (b. 1962) in London, UK, studied Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art, London (1989) and received his MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London (1991). His interdisciplinary practice uses citations of Western art history and literature to question the validity of contemporary cultural and national identities within the context of globalization. Through examining race, class, and the construction of cultural identity, his works comment on the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe, and their respective economic and political histories.

Shonibare’s works are in notable museum collections internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome; and VandenBroek Foundation, the Netherlands. 

Curatorial Acknowledgments

The American Library was originally commissioned for the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art in 2018. The Skirball’s presentation is curated by Associate Curator Vicki Phung Smith. 

This exhibition is on loan from the Rennie Collection, Vancouver, Canada.


Special Tour
Thursday, June 20, 2:00–3:00 pm

To commemorate Juneteenth, Skirball Associate Curator Vicki Phung Smith will lead a guided tour of The American Library, exploring the process and meaning behind Yinka Shonibare's immersive art installation. Get a special glimpse into the more than 6,000 books featuring the names of US immigrants and Black Americans who have made notable contributions to American life and culture.

Note: Special Tours are subject to cancellation. 

More to Explore

This Light of Ours, The American Library, and RECLAIMED—Skirball Curator Talks

In these recorded talks held at the Skirball, enjoy impactful and lively conversations with Skirball curators Alissa Schapiro and Vicki Phung Smith about the fall 2023 exhibitions This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, The American Library by Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, and RECLAIMED: A Family Painting. Navigate to these timestamps to specifically hear about each exhibition:

15:50—The American Library
37:56—This Light of Ours

Donor Support

The American Library by Yinka Shonibare CBE RA and its related educational programs at the Skirball Cultural Center are made possible through lead support from the following donors:

Alicia Miñana and Rob Lovelace

Along with support from the following donors: 

The Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation
Kafi and Bob Blumenfield
Rebekah and Howard Farber