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An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street: Selected Artists’ Books
The UVM Libraries’ Book Arts Collection includes nine books created when the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition called on book artists to “reassemble” an inventory of books and reading material lost after a car bomb exploded on Baghdad’s “Street of Booksellers” on March 5, 2007. The winding street, named after the tenth-century Arab poet, al-Mutanabbi, was filled with bookstores and bookstalls, cafes and gathering places. It was an important center of the city’s intellectual community. Many booksellers were killed and wounded, and stores and stalls were destroyed.
In 2010, the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition asked artists to create books “that reflected both the strength and fragility of books, but also showed the endurance of the ideas within them.” Artists from around the world have donated over 260 books to the project. One complete set of the books will be donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad, and others are being exhibited in the United States and Europe. Visit Special Collections to see the books shown here, and more.
The pages of Beata Wehr’s pamphlet contain carpets with the words “a book” in different languages and alphabets. It can be read from left to right, or from right to left, depending on the cultural preference. No matter where the reader starts, they will move into the attack—indicated by the blacked out text on the center page spread—and then beyond to the resurgence of books, on pages where the text is highlighted with bits of added color.
To Make You See
Suzanne Sawyer printed quotes from Joseph Conrad and Seneca over a map of Baghdad that shows the area of al-Mutannabi Street. Sawyer chose the quotes “for their connection to the importance of books and reading as common ground for all people.”
In the Minute Before, In the Minute After
Maureen Cummins and Tona Wilson used a dos à dos (back-to-back) structure to join two books, one that portrays a long and glorious literary and cultural heritage before the bomb exploded at 11:40 am, and a second that portrays the hellish world after the explosion.
Street of Booksellers
Francis Jetter used a long accordion structure to show a street full of cafes and conversations, writers and readers, ghosts and dreams. The carved wooden covers put the “spines and bodies of books burned, broken, bulldozed” in our hands.
Not a Straight Line
Emily Martin joined 10 small, Coptic-bound books to suggest a winding street of booksellers. As the reader unfolds the structure, the orientation twists and turns, suggesting the chaos that ensued after the explosion. Each book contains one line of text.
Julie Chen created a meticulously designed metal locket that houses a small book on one side and a triptych on the other side. The small book challenges us to think about our relationship to printed words, information and reading. The triptych includes a woven token framed by photographs of al-Mutanabbi Street before the explosion. The texts on the woven strips are taken from the preambles to the United States and Iraqi constitutions. Visit UVM Special Collections to see the books shown here, and more.
Mary McCarthy and Shirley Veenema describe their book as “A circular narrative of destruction and rebirth, entered by either cover. Panoramas of place and events capture the irrepressible nature of words, thoughts, and ideas.” They collaborated to produce the collaged images, which are presented in an accordion structure that can be wrapped into a circle. The covers are covered with sand.
One by One
Lynn Avadenka’s contribution to the al-Mutanabbi Street inventory was inspired by Wilfred Owen’s 1916 poem, The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, which appears on the last panel, at the end of what might be shops along a street or books on a shelf.