Edmund de Waal et al.

Future exiles – climate change and migration (online event)
29 October 2020, 5.30 – 6.30pm (BST)

Edmund de Waal, photo © Ben McKee
Edmund de Waal, photo © Ben McKee

This panel explores the interconnected nature of climate change and migration and accompanies the current Citi exhibition Arctic: climate and culture and the library of exile.

Panelists include indigenous Arctic writer, spoken word poet and curator, Taqralik Partridge,  Shaul  Bassi,  director of the International Center for the Humanities and Social Change at Ca’Foscari University of Venice, and James Thornton, an environmental lawyer and writer. The New Statesman named Thornton as one of 10 people who could change the world.

This is one of four thought-provoking events exploring the themes inspired by the library of exile, presented in collaboration with Edmund de Waal, English PEN, and the British Museum.

British Museum


Edmund de Waal

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

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