Home > Art > Artists prove that bombing in Baghdad was not the end of street of booksellers
February 11

In March 2007, a bomb killed 30 and wounded 100 on Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street. This carnage is dwarfed by the devastation in Iraq, Syria and other countries in the region since the 2003 U.S. invasion. But Mutanabbi was a place of potent cultural symbolism: a street of booksellers, named after a 10th-century Iraqi poet.

2bc7a7d1c69ae54bf3035ae224d23701The attack on readers and writers recalled such infamies as the Nazi book burnings that preceded World War II and the destruction of Ptolemaic Alexandria’s grand library. And it spurred San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil to call on writers, print makers and art-book makers for an aesthetic response. Their work is showcased in “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016,” an area-wide festival that includes exhibitions, readings and more.

The number of books and prints made in response to the bombing is now so large that the array must be spread across multiple venues, including the McLean Project for the Arts (MPA), Brentwood Arts Exchange and the library and galleries at George Mason University. (GMU professor Helen Frederick is the festival’s D.C. coordinator.) In addition, several local galleries have mounted shows of new work inspired by the bombing and classical Arabic poetry.

2221Most of the pieces incorporate text or were sparked by verse. The show at the District’s Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, “Night and the Desert Know Me,” takes its title from a famed line of Al-Mutanabbi’s, and it matches artworks to poems. “Embracing the Power of Artistic Practice,” at Fairfax’s Olly Olly Gallery, contains work keyed to the poet’s warning: “When you see the lion bare his teeth, don’t think he merely means to smile.”



5151alsh3erNot all of the words are from one author, or even from one region. There’s antiwar verse by Britain’s Wilfred Owen (killed in action in World War I) and excerpts from the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” first inscribed on clay tablets some four millennia ago. Several pieces feature butterflies, fluttering from a phrase by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. “Manuscripts don’t burn,” perhaps the best-known line from Russian writer Mikhail Bulga­kov’s “The Master and Margarita,” appears in several prints and handmade, single-edition books.


Read the full article on the Washington Post