Wednesday, 3 April 2013


On March 5 2007 a car bomb exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street, the street of booksellers in Baghdad and the cultural centre for the literary and intellectual community.  Thirty people were killed and one hundred wounded.  This attack on writers and booksellers compelled San Francisco bookseller, Beau Beausoleil to show an expression of solidarity with the formation of art and writing project Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. 
 I joined the project at the beginning of this year after seeing a call for 15 book artists on Sarah Bodman's Book Arts site.  The number of artists books in the project was to be 260, double the number of casualties and the 15 new artists were called to replace others who had dropped out.  Three books had to be sent to Sarah Bodman by April 30, as the worldwide exhibitions have already commenced.  It is planned to have an exhibition in the National Library of Baghdad and a full set of the books will be donated to the National Library's collection. On both the above mentioned sites you can find more details about the project and see the books. 
It was not an easy task to look at all the books already submitted and to create something original within the guidelines.  My first idea had already been used by a couple of other people in different ways, and I was not happy with using it yet again.
I came up with another idea to reflect on absence and loss using a mathematical infinity tiling pattern as a metaphor for the intellectual community and Islamic culture, and to act as a map of the district, and was pleased that this idea did not appear to have been used. 
 These tiling patterns have been used since medieval times on architectural surfaces and in book illumination. So I started work on Absence and made an edition of 6 books.
The book contains inkjet prints of drawings on Fabriano Artistico paper with gouache painting added later.  The French simplified binding is of Lamali paper/fabric with a soft leather spine and a collaged fragment of calfskin vellum. 
I intended the book to express hope for the future with the return of the normal patterns of cultural and intellectual life.


dinahmow said...

I'm following this with much interest (though not producing work for it).
Such a small gesture and I think those of us who care far outnumber the perpetrators.

jac said...

Strange coincidence. I opened your blog today just after a trip to the John Rylands library to see an exhibition of some of the Al-Mutanabbi Street books. Yours looks a though it will make a good addition to the collection.

Fiona Dempster said...

A wonderful project Helen - and a beautiful book with hope for the future.

Helen M said...

Thanks Di, Jac and Fiona. I think it is a very worthy project and I'm pleased I had the opportunity to participate.