The San Francisco Center for the Book is exhibiting a selection of fifty-five artists books from the 250 book collection of the "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here" collection.
In July 2010, Beau Beausoleil put out a call for book artists to join 'An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street', a project to "re-assemble" some of the "inventory" of the reading material that was lost in the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street on 5th March 2007. This collection of books is a result of the call to artists to join the Al-Mutanabbi Street project and further enhance the previous work of the Coalition by honouring al-Mutanabbi Street, through creating work that holds both "memory and future," exactly what was lost that day.
On March 5th 2007, a car bomb was 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. Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and tobacco shops. It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community.
The coalition asked each Book Artist who joined the project to complete three books (or other paper material) over the course of a year, books that reflected both the strength and fragility of books, but also showed the endurance of the ideas within them. The coalition 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.
A complete set of all the books will be donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad. The other two sets are touring for the next few years in conjunction with shows of the broadsides as well as in shows of their own.
The inventory of al-Mutanabbi Street was as diverse as the Iraqi population, including literature of both Iraq and the Middle East, history, political theory, popular novels, scholarly works, religious tracts, technical books, poetry, mysteries; even stationery and blank school notebooks could be purchased on this street, as well as children's books, comics, and magazines. Arabic was of course the predominate language but books in Farsi, French, German, and English were also represented. Because books have their own journeys, ones quite unknown to us, there were also a few books in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, or Italian, as well as classic Greek and Latin, Hindi, or even Russian.
This project is both a lament and a commemoration of the singular power of words. The coalition asked that the work move within these parameters. It is hoped that the books created would use al-Mutanabbi and its printers, writers, booksellers, and readers, as a touchstone and make visible the literary bridge that connects us. A bridge made of words and images that move back and forth between the readers in Iraq and the United States and beyond. These books will show The Commonality of al-Mutanabbi Street with any street, anywhere that holds a bookstore or cultural institution.