Review of Yinka Shonibare

This Fall, Yinka Shonibare’s American Library and Wind Sculpture initiated much contemplative, intellectual thought among students, professors, and the entire community of Davidson. These pieces of art livened the campus and demonstrated first-hand the impact art can have especially when displayed in harmony with the sciences. Art encourages creative thought and inspires cultural awareness and empathy. It connects us students to the world outside of college. As a Davidson student, I often get psychologically trapped in the self-absorbed Davidson bubble, forgetting that life is happening outside of my own experiences. Art reminds me of a bigger picture reason why I am getting an education in the first place is to learn more about the world and better understand it.

Shonibare’s artwork focuses on cultural significance and post-colonialism. His American Library represent the stories of immigrants in the U.S. Covering books in traditional West African fabrics symbolizes the multicultural history of the U.S. the variety of colors and designs show the differences in each individuals immigration story. The “melting pot” identity of the U.S. was based on the inclusion of diverse groups of people. Shonibare wants us to question what life today would be like if the U.S. was not based on the principle of equality and inclusivity. It juxtaposes the names of immigrants with the names people who have spoken out against immigration like Donald Trump. This is done in order to stretch the theme of inclusion in the U.S. further. The Library represents everyone in the U.S., both the good and the bad.

The Wind Sculpture is another example of Shonibare’s artwork on the Davidson campus.

Placing the sculpture directly outside Wall, the science building, inspires creativity in the sciences and rejects the common misconception that the sciences and the humanities should not be connected. Both the science and art attempt to understand the world from different perspectives. Art does not take away from the importance of the sciences and vice versa. It is not one or the other. The placement of the sculpture embodies everything that the liberal arts stands for. Liberal arts allows students to make connections between different fields of study. This leads to new innovative discoveries that could not have been reached if these fields were kept separate. Liberal arts degrees privilege students with a multi-faceted worldview. Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture reminds students of this everyday as they walk past it.

Art starts a conversation that is necessary among students our age. It is easy to get caught up in our classes. We learn simply to do well on exams and make good grades. We become distracted from real life. As the next generation and the future leaders of the world, we need to be able put our education in context with prevalent social issues. Art opens the doors for us to view diverse studies through new lenses.


Questions I would ask Shonibare if I had the opportunity:

  1. Do you believe that visual art can be revolutionary or revolution-making?
  2. How does art make you personally think differently about the humanities?
  3. What differentiates art and political activism?
  4. As a British-Nigerian artist, what made you want to do a piece on the immigration in the United States?
  5. How do you think your post-colonialism theme in your artwork connects with the sciences?