Indiana University

Herron Art Library will be only U.S. repository of collection honoring Iraq’s literary center

  • July 31, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Herron Art Library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis will become the only U.S. library housing a permanent art collection honoring Iraq’s literary history.

The library, part of the IUPUI University Library, has signed an agreement with an international coalition of artists and writers to preserve and showcase a collection of more than 300 printed materials remembering the destruction of al-Mutanabbi Street, the centuries-old literary center of Baghdad.

Only three libraries worldwide will hold complete runs of the collection known as “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.”  Herron Art Library officials anticipate delivery of the collection in stages, beginning in 2014.

“The 'Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here' project is important first because the collection is remarkable,” said David Lewis, dean of the IUPUI University Library. "It includes works by the best book artists today from all over the world. But what is more important is what the collection represents and the questions it forces us to confront. It is a powerful statement about both the vulnerability of art and culture, especially in the face of conflict, and at the same time the power of art to respond to tragedy and loss."

On March 5, 2007, in the middle of the Iraq war, a car bomb destroyed al-Mutanabbi Street, a busy avenue of cafés and bookstores that had served as a meeting place for generations of Middle Eastern writers and thinkers.

In response to the attack, San Francisco bookseller Beau Beausoleil rallied a community of international artists and writers to produce “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.” The collection of letterpress-printed broadsides (poster-like works on paper), artists’ books (unique works of art in book form) and an anthology of writing is focused on expressing solidarity with Iraqi booksellers, writers and readers.

"Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” includes 260 artists’ books; a publication titled “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad's 'Street of the Booksellers,'" plus 130 broadsides -- one for every person killed or injured in the bombing.

One artist’s book in the collection, “Memento,” is the creation of Julie Chen. The art "includes a miniature book housed in a metal locket that allows the reader to wear the book close to the body. The locket also houses a triptych that contains a woven token commemorating Al-Mutanabbi Street in Iraq. The texts on the woven strips are taken from the preambles to the constitutions of the United States and Iraq. The image surrounding the token is of a bookseller’s stall on Al-Mutanabbi Street before the bombing in 2007," the artist said.

 “‘Memento’ is about the fragility of the book and the power of reading,” Chen said. “While the commemorative aspect of this piece is clear, the content of ‘Memento’ addresses philosophical questions about the nature of reading and information transfer in our own lives as well as within the context of western culture in general.”

When she heard about the coalition’s work, Herron Art Library Director Sonja Staum approached Beausoleil about a possible collaboration. As a result of their conversations, the coalition has agreed to donate a complete run of the “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” collection to the Herron Art Library, with the understanding that the library will preserve and act as a loan agent for the collection.

The library will sponsor three biennial conferences to explore the themes and implications of the collection through papers, panels, posters and presentations with international scholars, artists and writers from a range of disciplines.  The first symposium will take place in early November 2014.

The Herron Art Library also plans to create an online repository to preserve and make widely accessible the proceedings and papers from each symposium, as well as images from and information about the collection.

The Herron Art Library is a full-service branch of the IUPUI University Library. Any resident of Indiana is eligible for an IUPUI University Library card. Resources and librarians are also available on the University Library website. Browse its online collections to learn more about the road to Indiana statehood, the history of the National FFA Organization, the writer James Whitcomb Riley and much more, or contact a librarian specialist for help with professional and school-related research.

Julie Chen's "Memento"

Julie Chen's "Memento"

Print-Quality Photo

Media Contacts

Diane Brown

Sonja Staum