23Sandy Gallery is proud to present a new Curated Collection of artist books made for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project.
The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project began in 2007 when San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil read about a bombing on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street was the heart of Iraq’s literary community, a street lined with bookstores and cafés where writers and intellectuals gathered. When the bomb went off, 30 people died and 100 were wounded. The responsible parties were never identified, and although the physical destruction of al-Mutanabbi Street was cleaned up, the community largely dissipated.
Mr. Beausoleil, disappointed by the initial lack of response to this horrific event, decided to take action. He established an art and writing project called Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here in order to commemorate the al-Mutanabbi Street community, express solidarity with Iraqi booksellers, and raise awareness of an event that could be construed as violent censorship.
First, Mr. Beausoleil called for writers and poets to respond and they published an anthology. Then he called for broadsides. An overwhelming number of letterpress printers responded, and, in the end, 130 individual broadsides were printed—one for each person killed or injured in the attack. Next, Mr. Beausoleil called for artist books. He received twice as many submissions. In 2013, Mr. Beausoleil announced the third wave of the project, requesting submissions of prints. With each wave of the project, one complete set of accepted submissions has been donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad, one complete set has been donated to the Herron Art Library at Purdue University, and additional sets have been exhibited around the world. The Herron Art Library is also sponsoring a symposium in conjunction with the project in November 2014. More symposium information here.
23 Sandy’s Curated Collection of Al-Mutanabbi artist books includes six individual pieces. Four of these are currently on display as part of an international juried exhibition of book art focused on social and political issues, Book Power Redux:
Bettina Pauly’s A sun that rises is an accordion book printed with a quote from the documentary A Candle for Shabandar the Café, which is about one of the cafés that stood on al-Mutanabbi Street. The colors chosen for this artist book, “the etching pulled in a grey/black, the letterpress printed text in a dark red/brown, the stitching a dark red, the silk ribbon a vibrant red, the box covered in smoky black,” are meant to reference the “destruction, smoke, flames, blood, the scars left behind.”
Another accordion book, Sunt Lacrimae Rerum by Amaranth Borsuk, “is designed to tear away at itself each time the book is displayed.” It is a simple book—white with partially cutout words. The first page reads, “these are the tears of things”—words purportedly stated by Aeneas before a Carthaginian mural depicting the Trojan War. However, with each page the quote changes by one letter, until it reads, “where all the tears embraced.” When the book is closed and opened, the partially cutout letter hook onto and tear at one another.
The Cycle of Censorship by Dina Scheel (shown in the blue icon at the top of this page) is constructed using a modified version of Yami Yamauchi’s origami form “Fireworks.” This book is a flexigon, the structure representing the infinite cycle of censorship of ideas, slow acceptance and adoption into culture, new ideas, and censorship again. Black colors and burnt pages represent censorship, while gold flecks represents eventual acceptance.
To Make You See by Suzanne Sawyer uses a single-page map fold in case binding. Quotes by Joseph Conrad, an English novelist of Polish descent, and Lucius Annaes Seneca, Roman philosopher overlay a map of Baghdad. Conrad’s quote speaks to the power of the written word to invoke awareness, while Seneca’s quote speaks to grieving as a method of finding inner peace.
Two other Al Mutanabbi books that we carry here in the gallery are also available.
A book, titled simply Al Mutanabbi Street I, by Elsi Vassdal Ellis, “calls out the names of booksellers, book buyers, book browsers who were killed on Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, Iraq. It also acknowledges the many journalists who have also sacrificed themselves for revealing the truth about Iraq.” This book combines non-linear narrative and pictures of slowly decaying books. The cover is a vibrant, violent red.
On Judgement: The book of bully by Nanette Wylde is an accordion book made with oil-based wood relief printing. The text inside of the book asks thought-provoking and perhaps unanswerable questions such as, “What makes a bully?” and “Do words create a terrorist?” The artist says: “Pondering the sources and causes of the destruction of Al-Mutanabbi Street and what this act really was about, at its essence, creates more questions for me than it does provide answers.”