This library celebrates the idea that all languages are diasporic: that we need other people’s words, self-definitions and re-definitions in translation.
– Edmund de Waal

From Venice, to Dresden and now London, library of exile makes its final stop at the British Museum. A temporary pavilion, designed as a place of dialogue and contemplation, visitors are encouraged to sit and read from a collection of over 2,000 books by writers who have experienced exile from across the world. Almost all the books are translations, exploring the idea of language as migration. The library is free to visit, continuing the British Museum’s historic connection to libraries over the past 260 years.

The library includes the works of almost 1,500 writers from 88 countries in dozens of languages. And it is still growing.

‘This is a history from Ovid and Tacitus, through Dante to Voltaire and Victor Hugo. It is the history of the twentieth century... It is dissidents. It is poets and novelists forced from their homes, Ai Qing in China and Czeslaw Milosz in Poland, Elvira Dones in Albania.’ Other writers include Hannah Al-Shaykh from Lebanon, Samar Yazbek from Syria and Elizabeth de Waal, Edmund’s own grandmother.

The walls of the library are painted with liquid porcelain over sheets of gold and inscribed with the names of the lost libraries of the world, from the ancient Library of Alexandria to the Mosul University Library in Iraq. The books all contain an ‘ex libris’ label for visitors to write their name in a book that matters to them.

The library was first shown in Venice during the Biennale 2019 and went on to the Japanisches Palais in Dresden. Following its time in London, all the books will be donated to the library of the University of Mosul with the help of Book Aid International.

Throughout the exhibition run you can enjoy a rich programme of events, including debates and panel discussions presented in collaboration with English PEN on the themes raised by the library of exile, and a day of free music performances, films, talks, installations and workshops to mark Refugee Week 2020.

The programme and display have been generously supported by AKO Foundation.

Photo: Hélène Binet
Events programme