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Art Library for Al-Mutanabbi Street

Why not take ART as the best language that does not need translation. Art speaks every tongue. Art makes itself understandable without words, attracts mind and soul by emotion and thought. Art knows no boundaries. This artist book object was made for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. Books can burn but no book tradition can be burnt!

Kolophon: Artist book object for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, edition of three copies in variation, hand signed, Frankfurt 2012, Book box: ca 18 x 24 x 6 cm made from paper and wallpaper Content: miniature books, "Flatterbücher" made from original paintings in different technique as monotype, watercolour, mixed media, silk screen or others, text and book mark Copy 1/3 holds 33 miniature books which are listed copy 2/3 holds 29 miniature books which are listed copy 3/3 holds 27 miniature books which are listed


I have never been to Iraq or Baghdad. But I have been always interested in the history of this region of the world, where script was born about 3000 BC, known as cuneiform script, in Mesopotamia, an area within Iraq today.

Today the remains of this culture can be still found underneath the earth there, excavated by archaeologists, and we can admire the clay tablets where script was pressed in when the clay was still soft and appreciate this ancient culture of script in the museums.

The Arabic script can only be dated back to the beginning of the 6th century. It is a most beautiful script which I keep admiring seeing its painterly form on old handwritten poetry or even on tiles recently in Spain, where the Arabic culture has left traces. This script seems to me a form of art itself, not just decorative text.

It can clearly be said that this region has been a centre of script culture for a very long period of time. Therefore it's no surprise to find this tradition focused on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad and to see there a bookselling place mirroring the culture of literature.

When the call came for book artists to work on a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street in 2007, which had been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community, I was very much touched as memories floated back to my childhood.

When I was an infant my hometown, Frankfurt, was heavily bombed and many people lost their life or were injured. All suffered and so did I, and still do today. Afterwards not much of the famously beautiful old town centre of Frankfurt was left. I remember the ruins and it took years until the city was rebuilt.

I learned that Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic centre of Baghdad bookselling, had held bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and tobacco shops. Much of it was lost.

The idea of the project is to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street by artists who are creating book art that not only remember but also look to a happier future.

The response by the book artists to that cruel attack on
Al-Mutanabbi Street might encourage the writers, printers, booksellers, buyers, readers and onlookers and all bibliomaniacs of literature and collectors of books on whatever subject not to give up. Their new books will firmly declare that the culture of the book cannot be destroyed. The wide range of artists’ books with their innumerable amount of themes and ideas will prove that creativity and ideas as well as truth cannot be stopped by bombs and attacks. The strength and fragility of artists’ books are to be found inside, their
power lays between their lines, pages and covers, their images show the endurance of the ideas within them.

Al-Mutanabbi Street can stand for all the other streets and places of literature and culture in the world which have been destroyed in the past. Therefore the effort of the book artists to help and show their understanding might become a significant sign of good will. The book tradition will stay alive and will give support to the mind of the people at Al-Mutanabbi Street. Cultural life will flourish again and might become better.

As all kinds of books in many languages - though Arabic was of course the predominate language - were found in that place, I began to consider what kind of book I could create which would meet the needs and longing of the people there and which would be understood by everyone without the knowledge of a certain language.

Book art is a special form of art; it combines the book world with the world of art in a close connection and crossover.

I became an artist late in life, a painter, and even later a book artist, working in both fields in an experimental way. Why not take ART as the best language that does not need translation. Art speaks every tongue. Art makes itself understandable without words, attracts mind and soul by emotion and thought. Art knows no boundaries; art would be the best messenger. Surely there had been books about art on display in this street. Maybe many of them were lost too.
Maybe places to see art too.

I decided to create an artist’s book object, something which gives a glimpse at art, a small collection of art in form of a tiny art library, a bookshelf, a tiny cupboard, a container for miniature books, cut and folded of my own original artwork. Many original paintings in various techniques like monotype, pastel, acrylics, or mixed media for example would be transformed into small "Flatterbücher". They can be looked at, picked up, their pages can be turned, and folded out. But if the miniature book is stretched out flat, the original image comes alive to be looked at in its whole. This image mounted on paper or a wooden panel would regain the quality of the original painting.

Between the chosen artwork changed into miniature artist books I placed images of heads/skulls/faces to remember and mourn the death brought to the people of Al-Mutanabbi Street. These "skulls" are shown from different angles, as if they would have been tortured and broken into pieces. But also I made some colourful images of butterflies in monotype, a symbol of rebirth, of souls not lost. Though some of them are just in delicate black and white as to give a touch of mourning, too.
I added images with flowers in bright colours standing for nature, hope and the future. This variation of monotypes is called "Flowers in my garden", a place full of peace and calm thoughtfulness. A place where someone can observe the power and magic of creation of life, vivid nature, always being able to change and rebuild. A flowering garden seems to reflect life as well as poetry.

The small collection of artist book miniatures will be seen when the doors of the bookcase like box stand open, when closed it will takes on the form of a quite ordinary volume of a codex which can be stored away on a bookshelf. The book box is made of different layers of paper and wallpaper.

Books can burn but no book tradition can be burnt!

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