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An Introduction to the Exhibition

Dear Diary: A Celebration of Diaries and their Digital Descendants

Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, 26 May – 7 July 2017, Weds–Sun, 11:00-5:30

Dear Diary has been co-curated by Dr Polly North, Director of the Great Diary Project and Professor Clare Brant, Director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King’s College London.

The exhibition celebrates diaries and the ways in which diarists capture human experience. Revealing the extraordinary and the everyday in individual lives, diaries stage important issues for the individual and society. Diaries are a profoundly personal springboard into some of the 21st century’s most crucial questions, including how do we identify, understand, portray and share aspects of ourselves?

Forms of diary have for millennia been a cornerstone of self-examination. Over 1,800 years ago, Marcus Aurelius was asking himself: Who am I? Am I good? Twenty-first century diarists ask themselves the same questions. This exhibition is about the personal experience of living day-to-day: what it is to think, feel and experience in the world. The exhibition show-cases hundreds of personal entries that were made on paper, in apps and on devices. It is through these records that we step into the shoes of others and in rendering their reality recognise and better understand our own.

Diaries can be confession, therapy and aide memoire. They are also used as appointment books and historical or medical resources. The diarist may use the diary as private refuge, a place where only he or she can be judged, or as a mental gymnasium in which to work out ideas. Diaries, and the narrative pattern they encourage, have been described as a forum in which individuals can claim and shape identities and as a cipher or filter for the influences that perhaps act upon individuals.

You can read the Exhibition Diary here

Diaries have been described as an important tool with which to mediate the gaps between what we think we are and what we find ourselves, in practice, to be. The ways in which we remember and narrate our lives connects with how we feel and behave.

In the exhibition, we see how refugees’ written and video diaries are used to restore a sense of voice and even agency. The diaries are important eye-witness accounts, preserved for future generations, in which the minutiae of a single person’s lived experience can count for more, or as much as, a journalist’s report or the history text-book.

Dear Diary charts some of the ways in which paper diaries have been joined by phones and iPads as our means of keeping track of daily life. Specially-commissioned film interviews with living diarists, by artist Derek Eland, reveal how diaries are meaningful to people now. Diarists’ lived experiences differ. However, all diarists seem to share a full complement of the sorts of doubts and beliefs which have since fascinated successive generations. It is the disparity between the eras from which the diaries in the exhibition are drawn that makes their similarities so instructive, not to say poignant. And it is the differences between diarists that add piquancy to their similarities: diary-writing practice and diaries can help us all in greater understandings of ourselves and others.

The Great Diary Project
Cultural Programming, King’s College London
The Centre for Life-Writing
The Department of English, King’s College London