“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.” Sarah Bodman
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.
Over 150 books are currently on show at the John Rylands Library. I travelled down to Manchester recently to meet Beau Beausoleil, a poet and bookseller based in San Francisco and talk to him about the project and plans for exhibting the books at The Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle. It was an exceptionally sunny evening in the Library and an excellent place to listen to readers selecting work from the anthology “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5th, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad’s “Street of the Booksellers”, published by PM Press. Sarah Irvin (pictured) and Ama Bolton (contributor to the book project) both chose readings from the collection before Beau spoke about his experience of promoting the project and his world wide responses.
What is a Book? Poems for Al-Mutanabbi Street
Ama Bolton, UK, 2011
“I wrote the first of these poems after hearing Dr Saad Iskander on BBC Radio, and later printed it as a broadside for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. I joined the project because it gave me a chance to do something instead of feeling powerless. Beau’s enthusiasm and confidence are infectious! The next six poems were written in response to his call for artists’ books. I had already started printing when the final poem was harvested from a CNN interview with Dr Ismail Serageldin, the Librarian of Alexandria. I could not leave it out, so I printed another three pages. I made book-cloth from my own hand-dyed fabrics. The flutter-book is a Japanese book-structure that I have used often since learning it at Bron Bradshaw’s studio in Somerset, UK, where I have been a member of her book arts group since 2003.”
Text inkjet-printed and titles letterpress-printed from wooden type on Lana Colours paper. 18-page flutter-book with pomegranate-dyed book-cloth covers. Size 15x19cm.
Edition of 26 A-Z.
The exhibition is on show at the John Rylands until the 29th July when up to 50 of the books will be on display at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil from 5th August until 30th September.
Sheree Mack, current writer in Residence at the Library will be delivering writing workshops to accompany the exhibition and Theresa Easton will lead a print & bookmaking workshop. For further details, contact the Library.