THE STREET OF THE POET
AL-MUTANABBI STREET ARTIST BOOK PROJECT
The Street of the Poet is based on a poem by Jim Natal is influenced
and inspired by Islamic illuminated manuscripts and codices. I wanted
my artist book to reflect those elaborately illuminated folios and to make a connection to the manuscripts destroyed in the 12th century sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols, when the books of the Grand Library were burned and tossed into the Tigris River. But I also wanted to tie it forward to the 2007 car bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad’s street of the booksellers.
This book was created as my contribution to San Francisco bookseller Beau Beausoleil's international call to book artists and poets to respond to that event.
I have been to Al-Mutanabbi street but I have only a child’s memory of it,
refreshed by more recent photographs and film footage. There were storefront booksellers as well as bookstalls on the narrow street, volumes displayed on the sidewalk on rugs and blankets. There were all kinds of books for sale but
I chose to focus on the irreplaceable vintage volumes and Korans lost in the blast and resulting fires. Who knows why those books were there on sale?
The original owners, due to the ravages of war, might have had to sell these precious family heirlooms out of necessity to feed their families. Now those books are destroyed like the ransacked libraries of history— perished for good.
The three-dimensional Arabic title of my artist book was made to look like it came from an ancient ruin or frieze. I worked the inside of my book to give it a look of hand-done illumination and stylized calligraphy; this process truly gave me the sense and realization of the enormity and scale of the incredible task of writing and illuminating something sacred like the Koran or Book of Hours.
The medallion designs used throughout the book are replicated from Koranic verses, but instead of using Arabic words for numerals (as is normal),
I incorporated the Arabic word “books” into their design.
In two places inside the book I have used gold letters intertwined and floating on the page as design elements to reflect lines from the source poem:
When books become smoke, the words tend to drift. They crumble into
vowels and consonants, letters find the upper atmosphere and jetstream
To symbolize the fires—ancient and modern—that consumed these irreplaceable books, the edges of some of the pages as well as the English title on the cover of the book have singed edges. This was a very emotional step for me as it was so difficult to burn a beautiful book, and to control the flame so it didn’t consume too much of the paper or ruin the page.
The gold, red, and black marble paper I chose to use inside the book conveys a mix of ink, blood, and gold representing the precious manuscripts and the souls that were lost.
POEM BY JIM NATAL
Book: 5.5 x 11 inches wide (closed), 22 inches (open).
Box and book are covered in black Japanese book cloth.
Digital printing on Stonehenge paper.
Decorative marble paper end sheets, Lokta paper, and iridescent and gold ink.
Edition of 8 All Sold Out