The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition

Al Mutanabbi Street is one of the oldest and best-known streets in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, enhancing the culture of reading over the course of the centuries. Named after a beloved Iraqi poet, born in 915 A.D., who wrote on courage, the philosophy of life, and battlefield glory, this heart and soul of Iraq’s intellectual community has been called the “third lung of Baghdad,” a place where scholars and learners go to breathe. It is a library in spirit, despite lacking walls and a roof. Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic centre of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, tea and tobacco shops.

Al-Mutanabbi was known for publishing and selling books that were banned as well as books that were not. This street was an outlet for those who wanted to write and read freely. The street was named after the poet Al-Mutanabbi who was killed for his writing. The bookshops contained literature of Iraq and the Middle East; history, political theory, popular novels, scholarly works, religious books, technical books, comics, children books and even stationary and blank school notebooks.


from Chatham House – Baghdad, 2013, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25569458

On March 5th 2007, a car bomb exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street is in a mixed Shia-Sunni area. More than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded.

Prior to the attack, a first-time visitor to Al-Mutanabbi Street might be quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of printed materials stacked, strewn, and for sale by the vendors in stalls along the pillar-and-alcove lined avenue. Men recited poetry in the open-air market and students shopped for school supplies. Many in the literary community felt the international news represented the bombing as merely the latest terrorist attack on the city, not as an attack on the freedom of expression and learning itself.

Beau Beausoleil, poet and bookseller – founder of The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, has been working since that day in order to establish a dialogue in solidarity with al-Mutanabbi Street. San Francisco-based he responded by enlisting others to create their own literary expressions of support and solidarity for the people of Al-Mutanabbi Street and Iraq. Beausoleil’s call initially elicited 133 printed works, one for each victim killed or injured in the bombing. The project continued to grow and attract lovers of literacy. The broadsides project has been touring internationally since 2008, with associated readings and panel discussions. A complete set of 133 broadsides has been donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here prints and artists’ books were displayed in numerous cities in conjunction with readings. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 (AMSSHDC) was a city-wide commemorative festival held in Washington, D.C. and the largest and most diverse schedule of events to commemorate the bombing.

In 2007, his ‘Call to Action for Letterpress Printers – Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides’ saw poets, writers and artists produce a series of letterpress printed broadsides in response. The coalition asked each artist who joined the project to complete three books over the course of a year that reflected both the strength and fragility of books, but also showed the endurance of the ideas within them. As Beau explains: ‘We asked for work that reflected both the targeted attack on this ‘street of the booksellers” as well as the ultimate futility of those who try to erase thought. This project is both a lament and a commemoration of the singular power of words. We asked that the work move within these parameters. We hope the books created would use al-Mutanabbi and its printers, writers, booksellers, and readers, as a touchstone. We hope that these books will make visible the literary bridge that connects us, made of words and images that move back and forth between the readers in Iraq and ourselves. These books will show the commonality of al-Mutanabbi Street with any street, anywhere that holds a bookstore or cultural institution, and that this attack (part of a long history of attacking the printed word) was an attack on us all.

The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition is not an anti-war project, nor is it a healing project. The coalition feels that until we truly see what happened on this one winding street of booksellers and readers, on this one day in Baghdad, until we understand all the implications of an attack on the printed word and its writers, printers, booksellers and readers, until we see that this is our street, until then, we cannot truly move forward. Understanding this may also help us understand our own role in helping to create the still open wounds that exist on the cultural and literal body of Iraq.’ Beau Beausoleil, project founder. A complete set of all these 262 books is part of the project’s archive at Columbia University in New York City, USA. The other two sets are touring in conjunction with shows of the broadsides as well as in shows of their own, alongside discussions and readings.

Die John Rylands University Libraray, Manchester, UK, zeigt in einem gemeinsamen Projekt mit dem Imperial War Museum North (IWMN) die al-Mutanabbi-Einblattdrucke. Im IWMN wird das beim Bombenanschlag in Bagdad zerstörte Auto zu sehen sein, aus dem Jeremy Deller unter dem Titel “Baghdad, 5 March 2007” ein Objekt gemacht hat.
(Rechts: die John Rylands University Library der Manchester University (UK), in der die Blätter von 7. April bis 26 Juni 2011 gezeigt werden – Foto von Katie Donlon – Link im Bild)

This online artists’ books gallery was launched to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street on 5th March 2012, for which commemorative readings and events were held by project partners around the world. The artists’ books detailed in the following gallery pages were added as the completed works were received.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition projects are ongoing and include: An anthology Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5th, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad’s “Street of the Booksellers”, edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi was published by PM Press in 2012.

Project members in many countries have worked on prints, bookmarks, music, photography and more in solidarity with the booksellers and community of al-Mutanabbi Street. Catherine Cartwright coordinated the UK part of “Absence and Presence” A Printmaking Project for Al-Mutanabbi Street. As in the broadside and artist’s book project, one complete set of prints was donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad. Two copies join exhibits in the USA. One copy goes to the UK (for exhibitions in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa). One copy (in 2016) joined the archive for the project at the Herron Art Library (Indiana – Purdue University).


Finally, here are some useful links to the other branches of this project: broadsides, artists’ books, printmakers, music, readings and exhibitions.Smithsonian Exhibit 2016  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjtGTCaA0z

https://arablit.org/2016/11/16/al-mutanabbi-street-2017-as-long-as-we-need-to-remember/Artists’ Book Project (An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street – Click into a gallery and then onto any book image to see more views of the book and read the artist’s statement. http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/projects/al-mutanabbi-street.html
Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides – http://www.library.fau.edu/depts/spc/jaffecenter/collection/al-mutanabbi/index.php2014 reading at the Arab British Centre in London – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBVmLKd9jIUReview of our anthology in Jadaliyya, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here  http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/12368/al-mutanabbi-street-starts-hereA musical piece that was composed for the project https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3x8juVd14g

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

https://worldarchitecture.org/architecture-projects/hfmeh/al-mutanabbi-street-a-journey-of-knowledge–project-pages.html

Beausoleil is also collecting donations to create an anthology of the broadsides. To donate simply send a Paypal payment to the email address listed in his contact information below. You can also contact Beau for more information about either project.
Beau Beausoleil719 Lisbon St. San Francisco, CA 94112Email: overlandbooks@earthlink.net


https://markerofwitness.wordpress.com/bookmarks-2/constanze-kreiser-brandenburg-germany/


Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter – Martin Luther King Jr.

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