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NLI unveils new artwork commissioned to mark re-opening to the public

Monday, 10 May 2021
Image of owl flying

Artwork imagines the National Library’s secrets and ghosts, and was an opportunity to support practicing artists.

To coincide with its reopening under government easing of public health restrictions, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) has today (10.05.21) unveiled a specially commissioned artwork that imagines what goes on behind closed doors at its Kildare Street building. Entitled daybreak in the land of statues, the work has been created by artist, Stephanie Sloan and writer, Henrietta McKervey. Comprising evocative text and print, the artwork brings well-known features of the Library’s Victorian interior to life, conjuring up a world that visitors would not ordinarily see. The title alludes to W.B. Yeats’ first published work The Island of Statues, which was written with research assistance from scholar Thomas Lyster, Director of the National Library between 1895 and 1920. 

The National Library is reopening onsite services to the public in a phased way, commencing with reading services and the exhibition Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again, with access on a ticketed and appointment basis. Services also continue to be available digitally, including the Library’s online catalogue and extensive programme of virtual events. 

Commenting, Director of the NLI, Dr Sandra Collins said: “In January 2021, the National Library commissioned Stephanie Sloan and Henrietta McKervey to respond creatively to some aspect of the Library’s collections or building while we remained closed to the public due to the pandemic. As well as being a creative response to this unprecedented moment in our history, the commission represented another strand of our work supporting contemporary artists during a time that has been particularly difficult for creative practitioners. 

“From plaster cherubs and stone gargoyles, to a very recognisable owl, Stephanie and Henrietta have captured a secret, evocative world that should seem at once familiar and mysterious to our visitors and readers. We were thrilled with their vision and look forward to sharing it with our readers and visitors as they return to the National Library buildings.  Everyone will be able to view and enjoy the artwork in our Front Hall, and enjoy the digital versions available online. Researchers will also receive a leaflet with the artwork with their research materials.  

The final artwork and a number of videos about the commission can be found here, and are available for reproduction.

Writer Henrietta McKervey added: “Our response to this commission focused on the National Library as a place of the imagination. That we couldn’t access the building became the heart of our approach; the idea that while it is closed to people, the Library always remains open to itself, to its own mysteries and ghosts. We were excited to capture the secret life of a place known and loved by so many.”

Artist Stephanie Sloan said: "The National Library’s Victorian building is so beautiful, and it was a pleasure to illustrate just some of the architectural details that make it a very special place. I hope that visitors will enjoy seeing our illustrations and text woven together, in a piece that celebrates the intimacy and creativity of our National Library.”

For full details on the Library’s re-opening and access to the Library’s online booking system, visit www.nli.ie.