A 'library of exile' to help reassemble the collection of the University of Mosul


Edmund de Waal's 'Library of Exile' installation was open to the public at the British Museum until very recently. Photo: AFP

One of the victims of the occupation of Iraq's second largest city by the Islamic state for three years, the library of the University of Mosul, renowned throughout the Middle East, lost almost all of its documentary holdings in the chaos of the war.

Which is why British artist and author Edmund de Waal will soon donate 2,000 books from his "library of exile" to the Iraqi establishment. These works were written by nearly 1,500 authors who have experienced exile over the centuries, such as Voltaire, Samar Yazbek, Ai Qing, Czeslaw Milosz but also Edmund de Waal's grandmother, Elizabeth.

Most of them are translations to illustrate the fact that "all languages are diasporic: that we need other people's words, self-definitions and re-definitions in translation," said the British artist and writer.

These thousands of books are accessible online or in a temporary pavilion, which bibliophiles could discover at the British Museum in London before the site was closed due to Covid-19 measures. They were invited to sit down and take the time to browse them in the "Library of Exile," whose outer walls were painted with liquid porcelain to record the names of destroyed libraries such as those of Alexandria and Mosul.

While the British Museum remains temporarily closed due to the pandemic, these books will be transported with the help of Book Aid International to the University of Mosul, where they will remain in the future. The walls of the "Library of Exile" were donated by Edmund de Waal to the Warburg Institute in London.

"We are honoured and moved by Edmund's gift. It will put his 'library of exile' into one of the world's great exiled libraries; and it will become a visible part of the Warburg Renaissance, a building project that will create new possibilities for artistic partnership and public engagement," declared Bill Sherman, director of the Warburg Institute.

Sending 50,000 books to Mosul

To mark the event, the British Museum will organise on Jan 29 an evening of readings and musical performances inspired by the "Library of Exile". Edmund de Waal, Soumik Datta, Amahla, Shaphwat Simab, Yasmin Ogilvie and Hartwig Fischer will participate in "A Space To Be," which will be streamed on the British Museum's YouTube channel.

In recent years, there have been numerous initiatives to rehabilitate the university library in the Iraqi city. The building housed a million books, historical maps and ancient manuscripts, some of which were several hundred years old.

It suffered enormously during the occupation of the metropolis between 2014 and 2017, between bombings by the international antiJihadist coalition and arson attacks by the Islamic state. Book Aid International aims to send 50,000 books to the University of Mosul in the coming years. - AFP

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