Last evening, I (and many others) were treated to a rare opportunity of listening and visiting with three speakers who talked about the Al-Mutanabbi Exhibition running currently at Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound. Bonnie Thompson Norman of thewindowpanepress.com discussed the broadsides and book she created for the project, Laura Russell, a PSBA member,owner of the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and also one of many artists worldwide to contribute work to the exhibition, discussed how she was moved to take a part in the exhibition, and most importantly, we took special pleasure in listening to and visiting with Beau Beausoleil, visionary and curator of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Exhibit who discussed how the exhibit came to be.
Arriving at Collins Library last night, I already knew on March 5, 2007 a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic book center of Baghdad named after a 10th century Arab poet. I knew thirty people had died that day with over a hundred maimed and injured, and I knew life on Al-Mutanabbi Street would never be the same. What I didn’t know was how the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Exhibition came to be until Beau Beausoleil began to speak.
When Beau Beausoleil first heard of the bombing is was from the New York Times. He waited for a response and when none came, he knew he had to do something. . Phone calls and emails followed as Beau tried to organize letterpress operators into printing broadsides about the calamitous event. It wasn’t until Beausoleil made contact with Sarah Bodman Senior Research Fellow for Artists’ Books at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), in the United Kingdom, who with a simple,”What can I do to help,” the project began to take on a momentum, if not a life of it’s own.
What began as a solicitation for broadsides became an appeal to poets, book artists, printers, art organizers, all over the world to contribute. What began as a simple appeal turned into a world wide event made up of 260 artists books exhibited simultaneously in exhibitions in Europe and the United States. Beau Beausoleil’s work is not yet complete. There is much yet to be done, whether in the form of lectures, workshops, or additional exhibitions made up of printmakers and other artists. In closing last night, Beau wanted to make one thing clear; “The Al-Mutanabbi Street Exhibition is not a memorial, but rather an opportunity so that every time you read a book, it is Al-Mutanabbi Street speaking to you”.
Epilogue: a small degree of normalcy is starting to return to Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, but it does not yet have the openness it once had. There are curfews and raids by the police who worry that being too open may invite yet another bombing like the one it experienced in 2007. It will take time.
Please take the time to read Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi. There are many websites to visit as well about the exhibition, including: http://www.al-mutanabbistreetstartshere-boston.com/ as well as: http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/mutanmain12.htm. And by all means visit the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here exhibition at Collins Memorial Library at the Unviersity of Puget Sound which runs for two more weeks until October 31st.
Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here
Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound
August 19, 2013 – October 31, 2013
Laura Russell, Bonnie Thompson Norman, and others, discuss Bonnie’s work related to the Al-Mutanabbi Exhibition, October 16th at Collins Memorial Library.
From Left: Beau Beausoleil, Bonnie Thompson Norman, Laura Russell, Jane Carlin
Mark Hoppmann & Jane Carlin contributed to this blog
photo credits: Mark Hoppmann