Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Exhibition: Opening Reception

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Free and open to the public.

Event Description

Santa Fe University of Art and Design (SFUAD) hosts the traveling exhibition Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here in the Fine Arts Gallery on campus from Feb. 8 through March 22. The exhibition will serve as a special event within the university’s 2012–2013 Artists for Positive Social Change series, the theme of which is “art and political activism.”

Framed around the sixth anniversary of the al-Mutanabbi Street car bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, the exhibition presents artists’ books that speak to the theme of intellectual freedom and the resilient human spirit. Al-Mutanabbi Street—located in the historic center of Baghdad and known as the heart of the city’s literary and intellectual community—was the site of a car bomb explosion in 2007 that killed 26 people, wounded more than 65, and destroyed countless priceless books.

The exhibition, which launched in 2012 and has already traveled to London, Los Angeles and Detroit, involves three book artists from Santa Fe—Lauren Camp, Suzanne Vilmain and SFUAD Art Department contributing faculty member Donna Ruff. The Santa Fe exhibition will be the only stop in New Mexico.

San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil founded the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, the group of artists and writers that created the exhibition. He said the Coalition’s goal is to show the Iraqi cultural community that the world will not be silent to all they have suffered, and that through a collective effort, some of the books lost in the explosion can be artistically “recreated.” A total of between 50 and 100 books will be on rotation at the SFUAD gallery; visitors are encouraged to return to the exhibit throughout the duration of the installation.

“The project will help those who attend its exhibits and readings to see themselves on al-Mutanabbi Street and to realize that we share a commonality with the Iraqi cultural community,” said Beausoleil. “The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition is not an ‘anti-war’ project, nor is it a ‘healing’ project. It is an attempt to have people see the bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street—and all its underpinnings—and not turn away. This street is not the resting place of this project, but rather the starting point for a cultural dialogue that recognizes the commonality of this street with any street that holds a bookstore or cultural institution, a street that intersects with so many similar streets within our own country and the world at large.”

Events connected with the exhibition will begin Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. with special screenings of Iraqi films at Tipton Hall on campus. On Feb. 7 at 6 p.m., Beausoleil and the Santa Fe artists Camp, Vilmain and Ruff will participate in a panel discussion in Tipton Hall. On Friday, Feb. 8, the exhibition’s opening reception will run from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Gallery.

An anthology edited by Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi called Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (PM Press, 2012) will be available for purchase during the opening. Beausoleil is author of nine books of poetry, including Concealed in Language (Night Crane Press, 2003). Shehabi is author of Thirteen Departures from the Moon (Press 53, 2011); her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times.

"In addition to bringing this remarkable experience—and I use that word advisedly because this is much more than an exhibition—to the Santa Fe community, our students will have a very intimate interface with the work through Donna Ruff's spring semester book arts class,” said Linda Swanson, chair of the university’s Art Department. “This is the kind of expansive curriculum that challenges and connects students to their individual practices and the world.”

Other events within this year’s Artists for Positive Social Change series have included a multimedia presentation by arts supporter and musician Tom Maguire called Barbarians at the Gate—Stravinsky, Diaghilev & the Ballets Russes and a simulcast of New York’s Creative Time Summit on “Confronting Inequity.”

While the exhibition opening reception takes place on Feb. 8 from 5-7 p.m., the exhibition will run through March 22.

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