library of exile (detail)

Edmund de Waal
library of exile

Exhibition / -


27 August 2020 – 12 January 2021

The Museum is closed. 

Room 2

Collecting the world


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 text, 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.

Throughout the exhibition run, you can enjoy a rich programme of virtual events including a series of panel discussions presented in collaboration with English PEN on themes raised by the library of exile.

Following its display at the British Museum, the books featured in the library of exile will be donated by the artist to the University of Mosul Library, with the kind participation of Book Aid International.

Exhibition supporter

AKO Foundation logo

AKO Foundation was set up in 2013 by Nicolai Tangen, CEO and Founder of AKO Capital, a native Norwegian who lives in the UK. Funded with a total of more than £300 million, the Foundation supports initiatives within the arts, education and climate. AKO Foundation has already undertaken a range of exciting projects with the British Museum, including Edvard Munch: love and angst in 2019 and the upcoming Citi exhibition Arctic: culture and climate. AKO Foundation is also instrumental in establishing the new Kunstsilo Museum in Kristiansand, Norway, which will house the largest collection of modernist Nordic art.

Nicolai Tangen says: 'At a time when the human race faces unprecedented challenges in terms of climate, migration across borders, and attacks on both knowledge and reason, Edmund de Waal offers a supremely coherent and articulate response. We are delighted to work in partnership with the British Museum to enable audiences in the UK to engage with this thought-provoking installation, which has already attracted worldwide attention when shown previously in Venice and Dresden.'