Monday, February 6, 2012

a book with no words

I have mentioned before the book project I'm involved in and now my book is finished, so I'll describe it in more detail. Last February I signed on to be part of a project called An Inventory of al-Mutanabbi Street. This is the street of bookstores in Baghdad, a meeting place for writers and thinkers, a center for those who value the written word. A 2007 car bomb destroyed the street and killed at least 30 people. The project was organized by Beau Beausoleil, who owns  The Great Overland Book Company in San Francisco, and Sarah Bodman, a book artist in the UK (you can google Beau's store, but he doesn't have a website as far as I know.)  For this part of the project, over 200 book artists will each make an edition of three books- one will be sent to the National Library in Baghdad, and two will travel in group exhibitions. There is a comprehensive website here with images of the wonderful books that have been submitted so far. 

We were given one year from when we signed on to complete our books. It took me a while to figure out what I was going to do. I didn't want to offend anyone, since it's a delicate subject and I felt uncomfortable that I'm not more well-versed in Islamic beliefs. Ultimately I decided to make books that referred aesthetically to Islam and that honored those who died that day. I thought of the book as a memorial object but one that would provide a glimmer of hope for renewal. So the book is black, with silkscreened pattern on the covers, and handmade abaca paper inside. Each page is cut in repeating horizontal rectangles as if there was text removed. I had a list of the names of 26 of those who died and I was able to find someone to write them in Arabic; then I carefully painted them onto ribbons with a tiny brush. This took me three days, but I enjoyed the process. And so here is the final result. This shows two books, so I could show the bookcloth as well as the interior. I titled the book Rabii, which means "spring" in Arabic. The transliteration is somewhat different than the Arabic word because of the ending sound, which can't be spelled in English. 

Green is considered the traditional color of Islam. From Wikipedia: Green wrist bands, threads and bracelets containing Islamic calligraphy are worn by Muslims in order to identify themselves as Muslim. The green wrist bands and bracelets contain Islamic calligraphy or some are worn as plain green threads.

Interestingly, I didn't know about the wristbands, but am happy about the reference. I was thinking green and Islam, and the Arab spring. Today, news from Syria and Egypt continues to cast a pall over the exuberance of last spring, but one hopes for peace and harmony in the region.