Six thousand patterned books line the walls of two rooms at the back of James Cohan Gallery. The spine of each book is emblazoned with names of first and second generation immigrants who have impacted British culture–Christian Bale, Tom Stoppard, Sir Ben Kingsley, Henry James, Yoko Ono, Anish Kapoor, John Galliano and even, rumored “Becky with the good hair” herself, Rita Ora. Basically, it’s your dinner party dream list.
This towering reflection of immigrants’ historical influence comes courtesy of Yinka Shonibare MBE’s installation The British Library, currently on view as a part of his solo show Prejudice at Home: A Parlour, A Library and A Room. With Trump’s travel ban and increased crackdown on undocumented workers, the installation could not have arrived in New York at a more crucial moment. As countless articles attempt to make the case for immigrants and refugees by pointing out foreign-born founders of tech companies or American inventions created by immigrants, Shonibare’s installation achieves what these listicles can’t. It confronts viewers with a tangible, physical record of immigration’s creative impact on a country.