The Street of the Poet
Artist: Tania Baban,
Poet: Jim Natal,
|My book, The Street
of the Poet, based on the poem by Jim
Natal, is influenced and inspired by Islamic illuminated
manuscripts and codices. I wanted my artist book to reflect those
elaborately illuminated folios and to make a connection to the manuscripts
destroyed in the 12th century sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols,
when the books of the Grand Library were burned and tossed into
the Tigris River. But I also wanted to tie it forward to the 2007
car bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad’s street of the
I’ve been to al-Mutanabbi Street but I have only a child’s
memory of it, refreshed by more recent photographs and fi lm footage.
There were storefront booksellers as well as bookstalls on the narrow
street, volumes displayed on the sidewalk on rugs and blankets.
There were all kinds of books for sale but I chose to focus on the
irreplaceable vintage volumes and Korans lost in the blast and resulting
fires. Who knows why those books were there on sale? The original
owners, due to the ravages of war, might have had to sell these
precious family heirlooms out of necessity to feed their families.
Now those books are lost like the ransacked libraries of history
- lost for good.
The three-dimensional Arabic title of my artist book was made to
look like it came from an ancient ruin or frieze. I worked the inside
the book to give it a look of simple hand-done illumination and
stylised calligraphy; this process truly gave me the sense and realization
of the enormity and the scale of the incredible task of writing
and illuminating something like the Koran. The medallion designs
used throughout the book are replicated from Koranic verses, but
instead of using Arabic words for numerals (as is normal),
I incorporated the Arabic word “books” into their design.
In two places inside the book I have used gold letters intertwined
and floating on the page to reflect lines from the source poem:
When books become smoke, the words tend to drift.
They crumble into
vowels and consonants, letters find the upper atmosphere and jetstream
To symbolise the fi res - ancient and modern - that consumed these
irreplaceable books, the edges of some of the pages as well as the
English title on the cover of the book have burnt edges. This was
a very emotional step for me as it was so difficult to burn a beautiful
book, and to control the flame so it didn’t consume too much
of the paper or ruin the page. The gold, red, and black marble paper
I chose to use inside the book conveys a mix of ink, blood, and
gold representing the precious manuscripts and the souls that were
Book 5.5 x 11 wide (closed), open to 22 inches, Box & book covered
in Japanese book cloth. Pages Stonehenge paper, decorative Marble
paper. End sheets Lokta paper. Font: Humanist. Iridescent &