Edmund de Waal library of exile

published on June 30, 2020

I'm Edmund de Waal, I'm an artist, I use clay

and other materials and I also write books

So, what I'm bringing to the

British Museum, is a library of exile

When you come into room 2, what you'll

see is a large building covered in

-porcelain slip, a white apparition of a building,

with words written all the way around it,

a great history of the lost libraries of the world

written into the walls of this building and

you'll go in and it's a working library

it's a library full, stuffed full of books from

all the way around the world

and all these books which you are able

to reach down and read and discover

each of these books, each of the books in this library

are written by someone who's been forced into exile

Someone who's been, because of who they were, because of their religion

because of their race, because of their political beliefs,

because of their gender, has been forced to leave the country that they

believed was their home and moved across a border

So it's a history of exile but more than that it's a celebration of an

extraordinary world of people who've had

to move, migrate across borders

And when you pick a book off the shelf you'll see

that it's as an Ex Libris label just

inside the book it says Ex Libris library of Exile

and you're encouraged

if there's a book that matters to you,

the book that really talks to you,

matters to you in terms of place,

language, history, you're encouraged to

write your name in it

It becomes your book and some of the books in the library

have 50, 60, 70 names in it from all around the world

So please write your name in this book

So the reason it's here in the British Museum is twofold:

the first is that when you walk round

the outside of this library what you

have written into the walls is this

extraordinary, deep history of the

destroyed libraries of the world

This appalling millennia after millennia history

of the destruction of Alexandria all the way through

to the dreadful 20th century,

the destruction of the university libraries of Europe,

the destruction of the room we're in now,

all the way through into the 21st century

and the terrible repeated burnings of libraries from Sarajevo

all the way through of course to Timbuktu and Mosul

So there you have this cultural history of loss

or a history of cultural loss written into this library and of course

that's what the British Museum

profoundly talks to; is what's kept, what's preserved and what's lost

This is a place which records what's been preserved,

what's been held out of the ruins and the destruction of repeated destructions of the world

through people endlessly trying to erase histories, stories and memories

and people and the British museum holds these stories

and records these losses so it's it's a good place to talk about loss

Why now? it's always a good time to make a library

Why now? because it's a deeply, deeply powerful moment

when we need to talk about people moving and the stories

they bring and to celebrate the fact that language is migratory,

it's diasporic, it moves across countries all the time

and we are profoundly enriched,

we've always been enriched by that

So one of the things that matters to me

enormously about this whole project is

that is that the library doesn't stop here

From the British Museum it goes to

Mosul where it's going to be part of the

new library there

the library that was destroyed by Isis three years ago

So this library is on it's travels; it's going elsewhere

and extraordinarily that's what books and objects do

they are there in transit, they move from one place to another

So when you've written your name in the book in this library

you know that next year this book will be in a library in Mosul

You know it will have traveled and keeps on traveling and that matters

It's absolutely who we are and how we connect with people in the world,

We take something, we're given something and we pass it back

and that's the the meaning of why this library is here

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