Exhibit Opening: "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here"

Reading - Literary | April 11 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 340 Stephens Hall

 Center for Middle Eastern Studies

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies is hosting a selection of pieces from "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here" through the end of the semester. Join us for the Opening of the exhibit, where curator and co-editor of the anthology of the same title, Beau Beausoleil will speak about this project. He will be accompanied by a selection of readings from the 2012 anthology "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here" by his co-editor, poet Deema Shehabi, as well as contributing poet Professor Persis Karim, and readings by Professor Ahmad Diab and CMES Visiting Scholar Ikram Masmoudi.


This project, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, is an arts response to an attack on al-Mutanabbi Street (the street of the booksellers) in Baghdad on March 5th 2007. San Francisco-based bookseller and poet Beau Beausoleil organized the first reading in response in August 2007 and issued a call for letterpress printers to respond to this attack with a letterpress broadside, collecting 43 broadsides in a few months. Over the next two years, with the help of Professor Sarah Bodman at the Centre for Fine Print Research in Bristol, UK, 130 letterpress printers had contributed broadsides. Artist book makers were asked to address the attack on Al-Mutanabbi Street, and attack on books and culture, through their own work; 260 books artists from 20 countries contributed in the span of three years. In 2013, Mr. Beausoleil began a printmaking project and has gathered work from over 200 printmakers for this project. A photography project in response to the assassination of over 400 Iraqi academics between 2003-2012, Shadow and Light, has been underway since late 2018. This project’s archive contains 130 letterpress broadsides, 260 artist’s books, and 210 prints, from approximately 600 poets, writers, and artists from over 20 countries.

This work has been displayed extensively in the U.S. and U.K., as well as the Netherlands, Italy, Egypt, Sweden, and even an exhibit of the broadsides in Baghdad in 2013. A complete set of the broadsides is part of the permanent collection of the Iraq National Library and Archive.

Free speech and the free exchange of ideas are at the core of what al-Mutanabbi Street represented to these artists. In the words of Mr. Beausoleil, “We do not attempt to speak for the Iraqi people, they have their own voice. Rather, we want them to know that we see them and hear them in their own struggle for a more just society, and that we will not let anyone in the West forget them… wherever someone sits down and begins to write towards the truth, or picks up a book to read, it is there that al-Mutanabbi Street starts. Any street that holds a library, a bookstore, a university, an arts organization, is part of al-Mutanabbi Street.

“We are not a project of pity or healing; we are a project of Witness, Memory, and Solidarity.”
- Beau Beausoleil

 dkhanaka@berkeley.edu