On March 5, 2007, a car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad killing or wounding 130 people. This street, getting its name from the revered 10th century Iraqi poet Al-Mutanabii, is the historic hub of book selling, where hundreds of bookstores and outdoor book stalls line the street and provide a center for the literary and intellectual community.
In response to this, San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil began a coalition, inviting visual artists to create broadsides and artist's books, becoming traveling exhibitions in the last few years, purposely keeping this tragedy in the world's eye. It is not only a reminder of what happened there but symbolically what the insidious intentions of the perpetrators are to erode the strengths of peoples everywhere through striking their culture.
Recently the coordinators invited 260 international participants (significantly twice the number of those killed and injured in the attack of 2007) to respond to this atrocity. The challenge in this project is for printmakers to express in one scene the meaning of "Absence and Presence." Not only what has been lost but also the determination of the Iraqi people to maintain their culture, having a strong continued presence.
My thinking as I approached this project was influenced by things I read or saw in videos of reactions to this bombing. Time and time again I heard, "Iraqi people read." This region can boast as to having one of the first recorded stories, Gilgamesh. This story survives 4,000 years to teach us what it means to be human, about love and compassion.
In the book "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here," Jim Natal writes, "When the mongols overran Baghdad, the Tigris was said to have first turned red with blood from the mayhem, and then black with ink from the books…that were thrown in the water."
"Fire and water to the same end, the same purpose, magnificent libraries ransacked, ravaged…"
With these thoughts in mind I portray a powerful symbol of literacy in the character Gilgamesh, bringing an ancient story through history, standing strong amidst chaos and destruction. Books of every language illustrate the union among nationalities and the people of many cultures repeating the words,"Literacy is power." and "The pen is mightier than the sword."
The Iraqi people are not alone, we all are threatened by the attach on free speech, the power of the written word and the exchange of ideas. They can destroy paper and ink but they will never destroy the knowledge, the power and understanding of humankind that emanates from that.
11" x 15" serigraph over acrylic underpainting