An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street - A Call To Book Artists
from Beau Beausoleil
On March 5th 2007, a car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in
Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street
is in a mixed Shia-Sunni area. More than 30 people were killed and more than
100 were wounded.
Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, holds
bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and
tobacco shops. It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and
The Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project has completed its call to
letterpress printers after reaching a goal of 130 broadsides from 130
individual printers. Now the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition is issuing a call
to book artists to work on a project to "re-assemble" some of the
"inventory" of the reading material that was lost in the car bombing of
al-Mutanabbi Street. We are asking book artists to join our project and
further enhance the work of the Coalition by honoring al-Mutanabbi Street,
by creating work that holds both "memory and future," exactly what was lost
This project has brought me into contact with many book artists who
responded to our call for broadsides by turning to a nearby letterpress to
join our project. I have learned much about their thoughtfulness,
dedication, patience, and the tenacity they bring to bear on any project
they take on. The more I thought about it, the more I have felt that it is
impossible to leave book artists out of this visceral response to the
bombing of al-Mutanabbi street.
Book artists represent what is intangible between the pages of any book they
create, the interior space that they enter, and from which they slowly
fashion a book brings to the visible world the myriad emotions of any text,
be it their own, or someone else's.
The coalition asks each Book Artist who joins the project to complete three
books (or other paper material) in the course of a year, books that reflect
both the strength and fragility of books, but also show the endurance of the
ideas within them. We seek constructions of all the various vessels of the
printed word, ones that pay homage to the truth that can rest between any
two covers. We are looking for work that reflects both the targeted attack
on this "street of the booksellers" as well as the ultimate futility of
those who try to erase thought.
As in our broadside project, we will be donating one complete set of 130
responses to this call to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad. The other
two sets will be used in conjunction with shows of the broadsides as well as
in shows of their own. Each book artist will have one year from the date
they join the project to complete their three books. The books need not be
the same, but can be concurrent reflections of their own thinking on this
bombing, including a representation of what books mean, and have always
meant, to any people.
The inventory of al-Mutanabbi Street was as diverse as the Iraqi population,
including literature of both Iraq and the Middle East, history, political
theory, popular novels, scholarly works, religious tracts, technical books,
poetry, mysteries; even stationery and blank school notebooks could be
purchased on this street, as well as children's books, comics, and
magazines. Arabic was of course the predominate language but books in Farsi,
French, German, and English were also represented. Because books have their
own journeys, ones quite unknown to us, I imagine there were a few books in
Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, or Italian, as well as classic Greek and
Latin, Hindi, or even Russian. Your own text for this project can reflect
the multiplicity of this linguistic crossroads.
This project is both a lament and a commemoration of the singular power of
words. We ask that the work move within these parameters. We hope the books
created will use al-Mutanabbi and its printers, writers, booksellers, and
readers, as a touchstone. We hope that these books will make visible the
literary bridge that connects us, made of words and images that move back
and forth between the readers in Iraq and ourselves. These books will show
the commonality of al-Mutanabbi Street with any street, anywhere, that holds
a bookstore or cultural institution.
And that this attack (part of a long history of attacking the printed word)
was an attack on us all.
The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition is not an anti-war project, nor is it a
healing project. The coalition feels that until we truly see what happened
on this one winding street of booksellers and readers, on this one day in
Baghdad, until we understand all the implications of an attack on the
printed word and its writers, printers, booksellers and readers, until we
see that this is our street, until then, we cannot truly move forward.
Understanding this one day may also help us understand our own role in
helping to create the still open wounds that exist on the cultural and
literal body of Iraq.
The Book Artist, Sarah Bodman, has agreed to work on this project as
co-curator with me. I could not ask for a more steadfast partner in this
Here are some details from Sarah Bodman for "An inventory of al-Mutanabbi
street" call for artists' books contributions:
Please could you produce your book in an edition of 3, by any means: hand
printed, digital, POD etc.
Do feel free to make as many more of the edition as you want to use/sell
however you want, we are asking for three copies in total to be donated to
Any kind of format that would normally be found on a street of booksellers,
this is a broad call for any kind of paper-based artist's bookwork for
Paperback, hardback, etc.
Folded and sewn or stapled sheets
Altered books, if artists want to make these, they can be 3 different
versions or an edition of 3. Please make sure they are robust, not too
heavy, and able to close for packing/transport (so that they are no bigger
than the size of an average hardback novel when shut).
Please remember that the books will tour for a while, with national and
international exhibitions and a complete set will be sent to the Iraq
National Library, so please keep them as light as possible to help save
If you produce any large newspaper-type bookwork, please allow for it to be
rolled for transit.
Also please do not include anything in the books that could hold up their
transit through customs such as metal, currency, food, dried plants, dead
insects etc. (this may sound strange but has happened with touring book
shows before). If you're not sure please ask!
An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street
Beau Beausoleil - Curator (North and South America, Canada, The Middle East)
Sarah Bodman - Curator (Europe, The Middle East, and Asia)
Contact either one of us, from any other Book Artist worktable around the
This call to Book Artists commences on Sept 1st, 2010 and runs until Sept
Book Artists will have one year from the date they respond to the call to
complete their work.
435 E. Pedregosa, Santa Barbara, California, USA, 93103
home: (805) 898-9260 cell (805) 448-2045
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