Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Will Be Exhibited Through the Summer

As part of an international tour organized by a San Francisco-based project, the Rare Books and Special Collections Library is hosting the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here exhibition, featuring 54 artistic and unconventional books dedicated to the memory of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street. The opening marks the seventh anniversary of an explosion that decimated the renowned street, which housed the city’s bookselling district. The exhibition will opened on Wednesday, March 5 in the Nadia Niazi Mostafa Room, located in the Rare Books and Special Collections Library, and will remain at AUC throughout the summer. “This exhibition is about book culture, literacy and learning and, most importantly, it’s a counter-attack against ignorance and the kind of mentality that seeks to destroy knowledge, literature and learning,” said Philip Croom, associate dean of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library. “By participating in this exhibit, we are pointing out something that happened in Baghdad that should not happen elsewhere.” The exhibition is part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project that was initiated in 2007 after the bombing of the street. The project was the first-of-its-kind to commemorate the attack, bringing together poets, artists, booksellers, authors and lovers of knowledge from all walks of life in an event that was organized by Beau Beausoleil, a San Francisco-based poet and bookseller and founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. The result was a unique and wildly creative collection of artistically fashioned books, designed by members of the project in an effort to capture the spirit of Al-Mutanabbi and its booksellers. The AUC exhibition will also be accompanied by a series of lectures and workshops, all related to the cultural significance of books, as well as the very making of them. Conchita Anorve-Tschirgi, curator of the Regional Architecture Collection at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library, will co-host a workshop on paper marbling. “It’s a beautiful technique of painting on water and then dipping the pages into it; it’s like magic,” she enthused. “The workshop will get students to be enthusiastic about the making of books and the art of it.” Speaking about the program of activities, Croom added, “There’s something for everybody. We address the physical book, the intellectual book, thought, learning, how that is recorded and how it is preserved. I’m hoping that people will be inspired in different ways. Inspired in ways they didn’t even think existed.” Croom and Tschirgi have also assembled their own artistic interpretation of a book, which will be on display at the exhibition and will also permanently join the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here initiative after it leaves the University to continue on to the next stop of its international tour. “The books are very unconventional, and it’s really a clever way of making people think,” Tschirgi explained about the collection. “We want to remind people that these things –– knowledge, learning, culture –– cannot be destroyed,” she added. “They can be hindered a little bit, but they will always returns stronger, and I think that AUC and the Rare Books and Special Collections Library are the proper agents to convey this message.”