Commemorating Al Mutanabbi Anniversary

Commemorating Al Mutanabbi Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of bombing on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, a day to reflect on our freedoms and honor those who were lost. 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. In this sadly successful act of censorship, the responsible parties were never identified, and although the physical destruction of al-Mutanabbi Street was cleaned up, the community largely dissipated.

This somber anniversary is marked with readings and events happening around the world. Here in Portland, there will be an event this evening, March 5, 2015 at 7:00 at PSU. The event is being organized by Bill Denham. Gallery favorite, Jim Lommasson will be participating. Find out more about this very powerful event here.

The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project began in 2007 when San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil read about the bombing.


He was greatly disappointed by the initial lack of response to this horrific event and 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.

23 Sandy’s Curated Collection of Al-Mutanabbi artist books includes several works:


One of the most powerful, titled 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.


The Cycle of Censorship by Dina Scheel 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.


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.”

Read more about al-Mutanabbi Street and the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project in very interesting article from The Economist Magazine here.