Conceived as a sanctuary for banned books, artist Theaster Gates’ Altar for the Unbanned is a sculpture that embodies Chicago’s cultural resilience and resistance and has become a haven for creativity and critical thinking. The artist says: “The psychological devastation used to disregard important literature is worse than the full destruction of the books. Instead, books are boxed, tossed and often made visible in a neglected state where they are treated like cheap and unnecessary inventory. Altar for The Unbanned is my attempt at honoring the writers of books that have been banned and to celebrate these books as an act of national heritage, intellectual and cultural freedom and sacred for the development of minority people and ideas. Altar for The Unbanned anchors the sanctuary’s concept at home while exploring the impact of banning books.”
Theaster Gates is an artist and social innovator who lives and works in Chicago. Over the past decade, Gates has translated the intricacies of Blackness through space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, he extends the role of the artist as an agent of change. His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives. Altar for the Unbanned is commissioned by the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events as part of the Library’s Book Sanctuary initiative that collectively declares all of Chicago’s public libraries as Book Sanctuary. This artwork highlights the City’s public commitment to freedom of speech and creative expression and supporting the freedom to read, learn and discover.