The exquisite within the ordinary in Brixton library

Alan Slingsby visits a Brixton exhibition that makes the everyday extraordinary

woman in exhibition with exhibit
Jill Tsai with her favourite item from the exhibition – an ancient Chinese printed dictionary

The things that most of us bring home from our holidays end up on dusty top shelves or at the back of cupboards.

But just a third of Jill Tsai’s collection of holiday items is currently on show in Brixton library in the exhibition Travel Things, part of this year’s London Design Festival.

The objects are the result of 20 years of travelling and collecting everyday objects.

At first sight, Travel Things looks like the sort of formal museum display that is out of favour these days, but the next look reveals combinations that set your mind running in all directions.

A Jamaican nutmeg grater partners a traditional vegetable grater from Tsai’s home country, Taiwan.

Vacuum-packed chicken feet from China sit next to “Elegant cock” mosquito coils from Mauritius.

It’s surreal and commonplace at the same time, a celebration of similarities and differences that is totally at home in Brixton, a place where different cultures have met for decades.

The various items are not under glass, but displayed on low-level plinths. To get closer and even touch them requires visitors to bow – a traditional gesture of respect in many cultures – both when picking up and replacing an object.

Jill Tsai’s Travel Things Museum is a London-based arts and culture organisation focused on global travel, discovery, interaction, and exchange. 

Her goal is to educate, entertain and inspire people – not only about different places, peoples, and cultures but also about how they relate and connect.

The show includes a pop-up shop (Christmas is coming) and a quiz; also a virtual reality experience.

But Tsai dismisses the idea of digitising her collection. Its physical presence is crucial to its impact.

While most exhibits are everyday objects, a Jamaican dutch pot, for instance, Tsai’s favourite is a 200-year-old printed Kangxi dictionary, which is paired with a hand-painted Korean dictionary.

Entry is free and the library is open every day. The show runs until Sunday 2 October.

The Brixton library exhibition may be a pop-up, but the Travel Things Museum is a not-for-profit organisation and exhibits three times a year in London.

Its philosophy is “everything is art” and it is “fuelled by an addiction to seek out the exquisite within the ordinary”.


Brixton library: Monday: 1–8pm | Tuesday: 10am-8pm | Wednesday 10am-6pm | Thursday 10am-8pm | Friday 10am-6pm | Saturday: 9am–5pm | Sunday: 12-5pm