Edmund de Waal
library of exile (solo show)
The British Museum, London
27 August 2020 – 12 January 2021
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