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Edmund de Waal

Edmund de Waal - 2019 Kirker Lecture - The Ghetto of Venice (lecture)
The Royal Geographical Society, London
14 May 2019

Edmund de Waal, the library of exile, 2019, Ateneo Veneto, Venice. Photo: Fulvio Orsenigo © Edmund de Waal. Courtesy of the artist
Edmund de Waal, the library of exile, 2019, Ateneo Veneto, Venice. Photo: Fulvio Orsenigo © Edmund de Waal. Courtesy of the artist

This year's Kirker Lecture coincides with the unveiling of Edmund de Waal's major work for the Ghetto in Venice during the preview week of the Venice Biennale opening on 7 May. The exhibition is called psalm and will be in two parts. The first is located in the Canton Scuola, the beautiful 16th century synagogue in the Ghetto Nuovo, which is now part of the Jewish Museum. The second part of the work will be a pavilion installed in the 15th century building of the Ateneo Veneto, historically a centre for cultural debate in Venice.

Drawing on the themes of his psalm project - the poetry of exile, the co-existence of different communities and languages and the history of translation in Venice over the course of a thousand years, Edmund de Waal will consider the rich heritage of the Ghetto as a place of exchange in many different senses.

The psalm project will include a programme of events to bring the Ghetto into the heart of the Biennale and to bring new audiences into interiors like the sukkah shown here. This was originally an outside shelter whose metal roof structure survives and would have been hung with foliage and fruit to celebrate the sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Venice in Peril


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Edmund de Waal

library of exile (solo show)
The British Museum, London
12 March – 8 September 2020

Installation view: British Museum, London, 2020. Photo: Hélène Binet
Installation view: British Museum, London, 2020. Photo: Hélène Binet

Created as a 'space to sit and read and be', library of exile is an installation by British artist and writer, Edmund de Waal, housing more than 2,000 books in translation, written by exiled authors.

Unveiled to great acclaim during the Venice Biennale 2019, this porcelain-covered pavilion is intended as a place of contemplation and dialogue. 'It is about exile,' says de Waal, 'what it means to have to move to another country, to speak another language.'

From Ovid and Dante to Marina Tsvetaeva and Judith Kerr, the library forms a record of repression while celebrating the response of the displaced. Almost all of the books are in translation, reflecting the idea of language as a form of migration. Each book has an 'ex libris' label so visitors can write their name inside ones that matter to them. The collection can also be explored through an online catalogue where new titles can be suggested.

Alongside the books hangs a quartet of de Waal's own vitrines, psalm, I-IV (2019), holding pieces of porcelain, marble and steel. Their arrangements echo the composition of Daniel Bomberg's 16th-century edition of the Talmud – a central text of Judaism – printed in Venice and notable for holding the Hebrew, Aramaic translation and commentary on a single page.

The external walls of the library are painted with liquid porcelain into which de Waal has inscribed the names of the great lost libraries of the world – from Nineveh in sixth-century BC Assyria to those recently lost in Tripoli and Mosul. Following its time at the Museum, the books will be donated to the library of the University of Mosul, Iraq, which is currently undergoing reconstruction, with the help of Book Aid International.

The British Museum