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An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street

In July 2010, Beau Beausoleil put out a call for book artists to join ‘An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street', a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street on 5th March 2007. We joined in with Beau that month, to co-curate the call to artists to join our project and further enhance the previous work of the Coalition by honouring al-Mutanabbi Street, through creating work that holds both “memory and future,” exactly what was lost that day.

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 intellectual community.

The coalition asked each Book Artist who joined the project to complete three books (or other paper material) over the course of a year, books that reflected both the strength and fragility of books, but also showed the endurance of the ideas within them. We asked for work that reflected both the targeted attack on this “street of the booksellers” as well as the ultimate futility of those who try to erase thought.

A complete set of all the books will be donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad. The other two sets are touring for the next few years in conjunction with shows of the broadsides as well as in shows of their own.

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, there were also a few books in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, or Italian, as well as classic Greek and Latin, Hindi, or even Russian.

This project is both a lament and a commemoration of the singular power of words. We asked that the work move within these parameters. We hope the books created would 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 gallery was launched to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street on 5th March 2012, for which commemorative readings and events were held by project partners around the world. The artists' books detailed in the following gallery pages are being added as completed works are received.

Exhibition venues since the launch of the tour in 2013 have included:

The Westminster Reference Library, Westminster, UK; The Powell Library Rotunda, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA; Salt & Cedar Letterpress Studio, Detroit, Michigan, USA; The Cambridge Arts Council, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; The Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA; The John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK; The San Francisco Center for the Book, San Francisco, California, USA; Gallery Route One, Point Reyes, California USA; the Center for Book Arts, New York in association with Alwan for the Arts, Columbia University Libraries Butler Library, International Print Center New, Poets House, New York, USA; Literary & Philosophical Society Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington, USA; Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, USA.

2014 exhibitions include:

Arab - British Centre, London, UK; The Mosaic Rooms, London, UK; The Institute Library, New Haven; University Of Southern Maine, USA; Kate Chappell '83 Center for Book Arts at the University Of Southern Maine, USA; Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada; The Hague Public Library, The Netherlands; Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County - Rochester, New York, USA; American University in Cairo, Egypt; The Frank & Katrina Basile Gallery at the Herron School of Art and Design- The Herron Art Library of IUPUI University, USA.

For a complete list of exhibitions in the tour to date, see: www.al-mutanabbistreetstartshere-boston.com/exhibitions.html

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