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Witness & Memory SPRING 2016

Project Partners George Mason University School of Art George Mason University Libraries George Mason University Student Media Brentwood Arts Exchange Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George Washington University CulturalDC Georgetown University McLean Project for the Arts Northern Virginia Community College Olly Olly Gallery Smith Center for Healing and the Arts Smithsonian Libraries Split This Rock Workhouse Arts Center Fourth Estate Newspaper

Support College of Visual and Performing Arts, George Mason University Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR), George Mason University Busboys and Poets Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art The Bozzuto Group The DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities The National Endowment for the Arts University Life Programming Committee, George Mason University

Cover image: Jacob Lahah,Visitors moving through the School of Art’s Fine Art Gallery during the January 28, 2016 opening of AlMutanabbi Street Starts Here and Absence and Presence exhibitions. Image left: Carrie Ann Plank, Abscence and Presence 2

This publication is funded by a grant from the Auxiliary Enterprise Management Council.

Image Right: Alex Appella and Beau Beausoleil, March 5th, 2007 alMutanabbi Street, ink jet prints and binding canvas, Argentina/USA

Table of Contents 4

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here — Helen Frederick


A Letter from Provost Emeritus Peter Sterns


Creating a Voice for Those Who Are Silenced — Nikki Brugnoli


On Reflection and Action — Meagan Arnold


Political Conciousness in Art — Tian Luan


Inside the Gallery: A Collection of Art and Poetry


Interconnectedness Through Art — Amani Greene


Building Bridges — Olivia Vita


Designing in Print — Danielle Coates


An Opening Reception Through an Intern’s Eyes — Leilani Romero


We Should Counter Hate with Poetry and Culture — Shatha Almutawa


Street Festival — Pat Sargeant

Editorial Staff SARAH IRVIN Editor-in-Chief MARIANNE EPSTEIN Lead Graphic Designer DANIELLE COATES Graphic Design Intern JACOB LAHAH Photography Intern

HELEN FREDERICK Faculty Advisor NIKKI BRUGNOLI Faculty Advisor JASON HARTSEL Faculty Advisor

To learn more about the project, visit: www.amsshdc2016.org

Editor’s Note: Through Witness & Memory, George Mason University students and community partners were given a platform for response to Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016. This publication documents what participants experienced and what they will take away from this important project. As the editor, I am grateful for the unique opportunity to hear from so many participants and share their stories.


Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016:

Book art, broadside and print exhibitions come to Washington, D.C. HELEN FR E DE RICK DC PROJ ECT CO O RDI NATO R


l-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 is a book arts and cultural festival organized for January through March 2016, throughout the Washington, D.C. area. Exhibits, programs, and events are commemorating the 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s historic bookselling street, and celebrating the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq, who have endured so much; and with people at home and abroad who are unable to make their voices heard. The street in question is named after the famous tenth century Iraqi poet Al-Mutanabbi. Booksellers who survived the bombing have rebuilt their stores and are once again in business. They sell works by Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, and Jews, children’s books, and progressive publications from around the world. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project began as a call from San Francisco poet Beau Beausoleil in


2007 for writers, and it quickly moved on to incorporate artists, artist books and printmakers all who are still responding to bear witness to a tragic loss of a center of literacy and humanity in Iraq. Al-Mutanabbi Street represents a street of booksellers, printers, and readers, a street where people still felt “safe” among all the words and books. This is the project’s starting point: where language, thought, and reality reside; where memory, ideas, and even dreams wait patiently in their black ink. The global free exchange of ideas, and the local place, came together in al-Mutanabbi Street, and the idea for the D.C. festival is that we all live on the space of that street in our own communities. Participants in the proposed activities of the festival are invited to reflect upon the legacy of al-Mutanabbi Street, and upon the importance of protecting and preserving spaces for the free exchange of ideas and cultural expression. The festival also pays tribute to the role of physical space in constructing public spaces for the universal exchange of ideas and transmission of knowledge, and the creative expression that literary production of all cultures allows.

In a violent world where the destruction of venerable sites is all too common, the destruction of al-Mutanabbi Street in 2007 evoked outrage worldwide because it made evident the vulnerability of the living culture of the book. To do justice to the legacy of al-Mutanabbi Street, the partners here in the Washington, D.C. area have built upon the original response of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here programming, to engage the public in discussing and learning from questions such as why are books and printed words powerful as intellectual agency, essential to freedom of thought and expression and able to affect every culture even in the electronic age? The project strives to examine the tension between oral history and written space. Why did the exchange and the selling of books (as transient space) form such a symbol of culture on al-Mutanabbi Street? What is the meaning of everyday urban rituals such as looking for a book and experiencing knowledge in printed form? What was lost and what can be recovered through restoration, and what remains lost despite the street’s physical rebuilding? How does a culture rebuild and regain its heritage, archives and humanity under such profoundly horrific circumstances? What mutual ground of human experience will support and sustain the profound desire for al-Mutanabbi Street to continue — to “start here” in our own community? Washington, D.C. is the perfect site for this project. Over 50 events have received tremendous response from the public, and the documentation that is being recorded will serve for generations to come.

The exhibitions featured in the George Mason University School of Art Gallery, the Fenwick Library, the Mason Atrium Gallery, and throughout the Washington DC area include three components: Letterpress Printed Broadsides; Artist Books; Absence and Presence (a call to printmakers), and a new DC initiative of invitations to local and international artists. Curated by Helen Frederick and partners, each participating organization also provides new interpretive and documentary materials, hands-on workshops, and panels and conversations that will be built around the exhibitions at all the partner sites. The visual arts exhibitions are hosted concurrently with the George Mason venues at the McLean Project for the Arts (curated by Nancy Sausser and Sharon Fishel), Brentwood Arts Exchange (curated by Phil Davis), the Gelman Library at The George Washington University (curated by Casey Smith), Smithsonian Libraries /The National Portrait Library (curated by Anne Evenhaugen), Smith Center for Healing and the Arts (curated by Shanti Smith and Spencer Dormitzer), Northern Virginia Community College (curated by Nikki Brugnoli and Matt Pinney), and Olly Olly Gallery, Fairfax, VA (curated by Jessica Kallista). The artist books on view have been created by artists from many countries who have responded to the call to reassemble some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was destroyed in the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street. Each artist who joins the project is asked to complete three books over the course of the year, or to create a broadside or a print as part of the theme “Absence and Presence”.



Anita Klein, Girl Reading Under the Covers, linocut

The call for artist bookwork states that, “We seek constructions of all of the various vessels of the printed word, ones that pay homage to the truth that can rest between any two covers. We are looking for work that reflects both the targeted attack on this ‘street of the booksellers’ as well as the ultimate futility of those who try to erase thought.” And the call for prints allows that printmaking leaves an impression, the mirror image, from the plate. Just as the bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street is reflected in the work produced by letterpress artists, book artists, writers, and poets, numerous printmakers have added their physical process that leaves an imprint. By building up their plate through adding and subtracting, such as with a burnisher that erases marks in metal plate, or the oily rag wiping out an image for an inky monoprint, they partake in absence and presence through process and profound meaning in their images. Additionally literary programs features poets, translators, and critics who are invited to give readings, translation workshops, and talks, bringing the poetry of the Arab and Muslim worlds to D.C.-area audiences. Poets writing in Arabic today often address the issues at the center of this project, bearing witness to intolerance and war and


building peace and common cause among disparate peoples. Readers and audiences will grow in their understanding of contemporary Arab, Arab-American, and Muslim cultures and the central role poetry plays in these communities. The diverse line-up of writers includes: Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Amal Al-Jubouri, Hala Alyan, Fatimah Asghar, Safia Elhillo, Beau Beausoleil, Fady Joudah, Amal Kassir, Zain El-Amine, Philip J. Metres III, Dunya Mikhail, M Lynx Qualey, and Sholeh Wolpe. Visiting artists in the program include Michael Rakowitz, Iraqi American artist and professor at Northwestern University, known for his conceptual art displayed in nongallery contexts. His exhibit “the invisible enemy should not exist” features reconstructed sculptures representing works that have been lost, stolen or plundered from the National Museum of Iraq. Prints by Morteza Khakshoor, a young Iranian artist, take their title from a quote from the famous Gilgamesh epic: “What has become of your Strength?” A book arts workshop by exhibiting artist Sas Colby titled “World of Books” takes place March 2nd in the School of Art at George Mason University, and features what artists from around the world treasure in their libraries.

Image right: Nancy Sausser installing artist books at the McLean Project for the Arts Gallery

Featured keynote lecturer is Sonja Mejcher-Atassi, Professor University of Beirut in the Civilization Sequence Program, who is invited to discuss contemporary book art in the Middle East on March 3rd at George Mason University. Keynote founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project, poet Beau Beausoleil, will discuss the project history and the importance of seeing where Al-Mutanabbi Street starts in our communities during his residency from February 29 to March 6th. Over 250 books, 190 prints and 60 broadsides are exhibited in various venues throughout the greater metropolitan area through March 5, 2016. A Street Festival is planned for Saturday March 19th on the Washington, D.C. Monroe Street Art Walk area. From noon to 6:00pm, attendees of all ages can enjoy experimental workshops in papermaking, calligraphy, printmaking and binding books of poems and images, visual graphic books, or creation of an altered book. Attendees will also enjoy music, poetry, story telling and partake of Middle Eastern foods. ď ´ Laurie Szujewska, I Challenge Anyone, broadside print




t is a pleasure and a privilege to add a comment on the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project for the Washington, D.C. region in 2016. I am delighted that so many artists and scholars are participating, and pleased of course that my own institution, George Mason University, is so heavily involved. Mason has developed important academic programs and curricula directed both at Islam and at the Arab world, and has as well a range of institutional collaborations and certainly a large student presence involving the same culture and region. Our commitment is deep and varied. The project itself invites a range of comment. The first is the need for active historical memory of the richness and variety of Arab culture during the Abbasid caliphate — the period among other things when the poet AlMutanabbi himself flourished. This was a period in which Arab science probably led the world, with discoveries in mathematics and medicine that would have wide impact. Philosophers worked to link Islam with the heritage of the Greeks, beginning with Aristotle, creating active discussion about the balance between faith and reason. Literature flourished, obviously, with a host of themes. And of course religious thought and law continued to develop. It was a period of great variety, considerable mutual tolerance, and creative leadership in what at the time was the world’s leading civilization. Remembering this achievement, and its range, ought to be part of what we associate with the Street. At the other extreme, the project should also remind us of what the United States has done and not done in this region. When the nation was moving toward war in Iraq Colin Powell was quoted as saying it was like entering a china shop: if you broke it, you paid for it. I must confess I don’t think it turned out that way. It was (in my judgment)

Bonnie Thompson Norman, detail image of Remember: People of Al-Mutanabbi Street, artist book 8

a war we should not have fought, that was conducted against the strongest outpouring of world opinion on record, and that shattered or challenged a host of Iraqi institutions that have not been fully replaced. We helped open the door to further violence, and we never managed to close it effectively. It’s not the place of an American to suggest what we should now offer by way of help, but we unquestionably have an ongoing responsibility. Which brings us of course to the most familiar message of Al-Mutanabbi Street: the reminder of the need to win wider respect for freedom of expression and the importance of promoting this value over recourse to violence of any sort, by any party. Again, this is not an American or Western standard alone. As noted, the Arab world has its own monuments to diverse expression. AlMutanabbi reminds us that a global heritage is involved, and that there’s global value in promoting the conditions essential to creative inquiry and expression. 

Picking up the pieces. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed January 3, 2015)


LISA K A H N A SS O CI ATE DE AN, GE O R G E M AS ON U N IVE R S ITY CO LLEGE O F V I S UAL AND PE R F OR M IN G AR TS Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 is truly an important project with so many interesting facets. It draws together diverse viewers and participants in a dialog without set boundaries. I am impressed by the creative involvement of the visual artists, writers, poets, readers, and visitors. Their responses to the 2007 bombing in Baghdad present deeply personal and thoughtful commemorations of that loss of a cultural treasure. For me, the profound significance of the preservation of cultural heritage through the written record has a particularly historic aspect in this case because it was in Baghdad that the Abbasid capital was founded in AD 762 and where they created their great library of classical and Arabic texts. It is through the amassing of Greek texts and their translations that the West was later re-introduced to great works by authors such as Aristotle. That tradition lives on in the importance of art and literature in Baghdad. When artistic expression, transmission and preservation are threatened, the entire world suffers. So, this outpouring of artistic support for Al-Mutanabbi Street attests to the value and continuing belief in the arts and their global reach through both time and space.


Creating a voice for those who are silenced: Students in Scholarship — Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts HERE. N I KKI B R U G N O L I PR OJE C T AS S OC IATE


he success of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 has been made possible through the support of the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR)/Students as Scholars, and CVPA internships. The primary goal of Students as Scholars is to create an environment that will foster innovative breakthroughs and initiatives that further disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge within the university community and beyond. As faculty in the School of Art, we aim to provide a collaborative academic and professional community focused on advancing creativity through traditional and new media applied to varying social contexts. The School of Art is founded on the premise that art both reflects and inspires a creative society therefore, improving the human condition while describing the world, both as it is and could be. AlMutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 demands nothing short of rigorous collaboration, scholarly research and synthesis, at every level.

Beginning in early July 2015, Project Coordinator Helen Frederick and I began to seek undergraduate student support after nearly two years of research, planning and collaboration with the nine primary D.C. partners, as well as Mason faculty and School of Art graduate students to bring Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 to George Mason University, and various other non-profit and academic institutions in the region in the culmination of over 50 cultural, celebrated events. After careful consideration and selection of our most qualified students, we built our team and began to slowly carve out roles for


Detail of Catch and Relase Posters, screen prints created by the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 Project Interns

each student that best directed their capabilities, curiosity, and needs. Each student came into the project being asked the same question: “How can we create solidarity with others through creative exploration and expression in the wake of cultural destruction?” — Andrea Hassiba Our hope for each student intern is that they come to define and investigate critically, the question of the project, at every phase of the planning and implementation of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016; and that they truly come to understand how Al-Mutanabbi Street starts HERE. Through the repeated application of the project mission, students can create a living culture of solidarity through creative expression. Our student interns are asked to identify and relate their own experiences in the world with someone on other side of the globe, via art, poetry or scholarly publication. We want our students to pay attention and to be accepting and open-minded to people, rituals, and cultures they may not implicitly understand. As a result of this task, students automatically break down their own pre-conceived ideas, or biases of other. Other demonstrations of awareness for cultural implications

have occurred through their writing and publication in the Fourth Estate (Mason’s official student newspaper), and the AMSSHDC2016 website. Our students are asked to attend art openings, translation workshops, and exhibitions, poetry readings, panel discussions, film screenings and conversations. They interact one-on-one with visiting artists, poets, and translators, and immerse themselves in directed readings and research appropriate to their experiences and intended learning objectives. They learn to identify the role of the artist acting in creating solidarity by advancing creative expression and exploration in the wake of the cultural destructions of books, histories, and centers for literacy and freedom. In lieu of producing a catalog or anthology for this immense project, our students have been asked to produce this publication: “Witness and Memory.” This publication aims to expand the college, university and community with new cultural expression and awareness. Students are taking responsibility for executing this project by immense collaborative efforts that will direct the design, documentation, writing and synthesis of the publication. Students have been able to complete this collaborative project though peer and faculty mentoring, research, outreach, and the actual inventory, organization, and curating of exhibitions. 

Interns of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project: Jake Lahah, Meagan Arnold, Olivia Vita, Danielle Coates, Tian Luan, Whitney Morris and visiting Fulbright Scholar Abbas Khorseed




R I CK DA VI S D E AN , G E OR G E M AS ON U N IVE R S ITY C OL L E G E OF VIS U AL AN D PE R F OR M IN G AR TS When the bomb blew up amidst the booksellers of alMutanabbi street in a murderous assault on flesh, words, images, and culture itself, it could have been the end of a deeply humanistic tradition. But ideas are tenacious, artists and writers are courageous, the hunger for human expression is strong, and the exhibitions and programs of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here are the triumphant result of a vision of freedom and renewal. From the ashes, a Phoenix of words and images has risen (as has the original street itself), and given the world a stirring example of what makes civilization a concept worth defending. I am so proud of our Mason family, under the guidance of artist-teacher Helen Frederick, whose professional journey as a maker of exquisite books places her uniquely on this particular street, for their leadership in the D.C. manifestation of this amazing project. Both on campus and throughout the metro area, exhibitions and events offer distinctive perspectives on the power and persistence of words and images to do their civilizing work in the world. The project is at once a celebration and a justification of the centrality of the arts in all of our lives.

A view of artist books and prints in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here inventory on display at SoA Fine Arts Gallery, George Mason University


On Reflection and Action

Why Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is more than an exhibition MEAGAN A RNOL D FILM IN T E RN, GEO RGE M AS O N U N IVE R S ITY COLLEG E O F V I S UAL AND PERF OR M IN G AR TS


n March 5, 2007, a car bomb exploded on the historic street of Al Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Over seven thousand miles away in San Francisco, Beau Beausoleil waited for a memorial to happen. Weeks past and little mention of the tragedy reached western newspapers, so Beausoleil picked up the phone and started calling artists and poets. “I became an organizer the way a lot of people become organizers: I waited for someone to do something. When nobody did, I felt the weight of the situation and I felt the need to act,” He said. A reading to commemorate the bombing occurred in September of 2007. Afterwards, artists returned to their normal lives; they felt it was over, but Beausoleil didn’t want the project to simply ‘go home’. Two years later, the ‘reading’ turned into over two hundred and thirty artists supporting and creating art pieces in reaction to the bombing. Nine years after the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi street, the project has grown to include hundreds of art pieces across all mediums, even more artists, and has impacted and inspired countless others.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is not a ‘feel good’ exhibition; rather than being a bystander, we should see these exhibits and feel the need to act on our feelings. Explained Beausoleil, “We are not a healing exhibit. We cannot begin to heal until we realize what the wounds are. The wounds may not be found for years to come.” By focusing on one specific bombing on one specific street, the more can be revealed about human nature and our understanding of culture. When viewing the exhibits, Beausoleil’s hope is to have viewers experience and respond to the art in a way that is impactful.

“I believe there’s a noise we have when we go about life… but when you’re in front of art, if it’s really working, then all the noise goes away and you’re completely immersed in that art.” He believes there’s a commonality between Al-Mutanabbi and any street anywhere. In essence: an attack on one is an attack on all. As students, professors, artists, and community members embrace this project, we should strive to react in our own ways. Whether this is a writing, drawing, photograph, or discussion, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is meant to be an active project. These artist’s books and other artwork are not bandages to a healed wound. As Beausoleil said, the wounds may not be realized for a long time. Instead Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here asks of its viewers what it is to reveal these wounds, and what the individual can do to react in a positive light. 


E. Ethelbert Miller reading at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Library during the “Come Together” exhibition opening


WA L E E D F. MA H DI, PH . D. A SS I S TANT PRO F ES S O R, G E OR G E M AS ON U NI V E RS I TY, U. S . -M US LI M C U L TU R AL POL ITIC S , A R AB I C LANGUAGE AND L ITE R ATU R E , A R AB AME RI CAN S TUDI ES I contributed to a panel on the politics of translation as part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project. The conversation was certainly enriching, especially through its reference to translation as a source of empowerment for Arab citizens seeking to reclaim their voice amidst growing signs of instability and uncertainty. The project offers a timely venue to mediate the urgency to both appreciate Iraqi cultural heritage and criticize the damaging effects of war and violence. The project’s exhibits and panels constitute a significant educational resource for individuals seeking in-depth knowledge about and experience of the Middle East.

“ In essence: an attack on one is an attack on all. ” — Meagan Arnold

Linda Soberman, artist; Lauren Camp, Poet Versions: A Deconstruction, artist book


Political Conciousness in Art: A response to the work of Helen Zughaib TIAN LUAN AR TS M AN AG E M E N T IN TE R N M AS ON G R AD U ATE S TU DE N T


eorge Mason School of Art’s Navigation Press launched a residency by Helen Zughaib from September 7 to 12, 2015 to support the progress of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project. Meanwhile, Helen Zughaib conducted a profound lecture titled Arab Song, Arab Spring on September 10 in Harris Theater. The lecture focused on twenty-three paintings that were inspired by family stories told by her father, Elia. Elia’s accounts of the past revealed Helen’s life in Lebanon and Syria through tales of family, community, morality, and Arabic cultural customs and traditions. Helen captured these memories from her father and reflected them in her paintings, which fully expressed her strong attachment to hometown and expectation to achieve human well-being and world peace. Helen Zughaib is an internationally acclaimed ArabAmerican artist devoted to creating paintings in ink and gouache. Her paintings reflect her Arab heritage and experience in America in a distinct way and are presented in museums and galleries around the world. Corresponding with Helen Zughaib’s artistic goal of fostering cultural understanding of the Middle East, her exhibit interprets Arabic culture and its connection with the entire human civilization. Helen Zughaib shared her desire to preserve cultural heritage and traditions in her hometown, which coincided with the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project’s mission to advocate cultural freedom in the Middle East. And the explanation about those artworks during the lecture also exposed Helen’s sadness over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and manifested her intense hope to facilitate US-Arab dialogue and cultural exchange.

Helen Zughaib, Unfinished Journeys, screenprint, 2015 16

The United States abounds with more and more crosscultural artists like Helen Zughaib, who has roots in the Middle East but relocated to the US and shaped diverse crafts in the arts. Two cultures intertwined become a powerful tool in finding common ground and mutual affection for the things that unite people and compel western and non-western countries to turn global challenges into collaborative opportunities. Facing the current situation in which Islamic states resist western pressure on Iraq and Syria, the highlight in Helen’s artwork is to strengthen cultural tolerance and reaffirm the value of multicultural connection by supporting artists and artworks nationally and internationally. And the project of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 takes the responsibility of building Arabic community-based activities to raise people’s consciousness toward diverse culture and defend cultural liberty. As a Chinese student pursuing a Master’s Degree of Arts Management at George Mason University, I feel blessed to be involved in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project. Helen Zughaib’s residency and lecture more than enabled me to appreciate the art of storytelling and the beauty of paintings in ink and gouache but deepened my understanding about Arabic culture and Arts as well as the entire project. With these background information offered by Helen, I found it much easier to master the contents and the purpose of each event we were to do, and to recognize what the project means for the whole society.

Helen Zughaib screen printing in the SoA Print Studio

for all people to access to arts. Pertaining to my own cultural background, I was born in China and determined to advance my education in the United States by learning arts management. This program sparks my thought of blending managerial skills with the creation of Chinese traditional art. Furthermore, Helen Zughaib’s legendary experience sets a good example for cross-cultural artists and it intensely inspires me to be committed to promoting partnerships among US-China arts organizations, and producing diverse programs that reflect important aspects of American and Chinese cultures in my future career. 

Navigation Press preparatory painting on Mylar

The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project, as well as Helen Zuighaib’s residency, is only one of cases that underscores the value of diverse culture and the equity



Visiting artist Morteza Khakshoor (front left), students and faculty view the artist books and prints in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here exhibition, SoA Fine Arts Gallery

Calendar of Events January 14

Opening Reception Absence and Presence and Hushed Revolt, Nahid and Nasrin Navab McLean Project for the Arts

January 15

Opening Reception The Night and the Desert Know Me Joan Hisaoka Gallery

January 16

Youth Writing Workshop & Youth Open Mic Fatima Asghar, Split This Rock

January 17

The Art of Close Reading: Translation Workshop & Sunday Kind of Love Presented by Split This Rock Fatima Asghar and Fady Joudah

January 23

Opening Reception Embracing the Power of Artistic Practice, Olly Olly Gallery

January 28

Opening Reception Selections from Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 and Absence and Presence, Fenwick Library and School of Art Galleries, George Mason University

February 20

Sunday Kind of Love Presented by Split This Rock Hala Alyan, Busboys and Poets

February 21

Film Screening: Caramel Followed by a discussion with Valerie Anishchenkova, Brentwood Arts Exchange

For a complete calendar listing all events, visit:


February 27

“BOOKED”: Family Bookmaking Workshop (For children ages 4–9) McLean Project for the Arts

February 29

George Mason University Gallery Walk Beau Beausoleil and Helen Zughaib Film Screening: Open Shutters Iraq Maysoon Pachachi Beau Beausoleil Gallery Talk McLean Project for the Arts Witness and Memory Beau Beausoleil and Safi Elhillo Lauinger Memorial Library, Georgetown University

March 1

Printing and Social Change The George Washington University

March 2

“World of Books” Sas Colby, George Mason University

A Picture of the World With You Inside Dunya Mikhail Translation Workshop Kareem James Abu-Zeid

March 5

9th Annual Commemorative Poetry Reading Dunya Mikhail, Amal Al-Jubori, and Beau Beausoleil; featuring “Swept,” performed by Michael Pestel, Philemon AbdEllah Kirlles, and Lena Seikaly Smithsonian American Art Museum

March 7

Film Screening: Forgive But Never Forget Brentwood Arts Exchange

March 8

Film Screening: Theeb Brentwood Arts Exchange

March 10

The Life of a Poet: Conversations with Ron Charles Dunya Mikhail, Library of Congress

DC for Baghdad: Local Poets in Support of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 Upshur Books, Washington, D.C.

March 3

March 19

George Mason University Reading Phillip Metres Conversation and Workshop Michael Rakowitz

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Street Festival & ART WALK Featuring poetry readings and hands-on activities. Monroe Street, NE Washington, D.C.

The Book As Document in Iraq Sonja Mejcher-Atassi

Book Exchange, Amal Kassir S.F.

March 4

Reading and Translation Workshop Sholeh Wolpe, Split This Rock

We Cross Borders Lightly Dunya Mikhail and Abu-Zeid Opening Reception, Al-Mutanabbi Street In Books, Prints and Poetry, Corcoran Gallery

Open Mic, Busboys and Poets

March 20

Sunday Kind of Love Presented by Split This Rock Sholeh Wolpé and Amal Kassir


For al-Mutanabbi Street “...books and stationery, some still tied in charred bundles, littered the street.” A single sentence which mesmerized one mind for hours will not be seen again, in that edition, will not be seen tucked into the bookshelf of the friend we will never meet, on the street we will not know. What blows to pieces goes fast. They’ll give it namessuccessful mission, progress in security. What lingers long- quiet hours reading, in which people were the best they hadn’t been yet, something was coming, something exquisitely new, something hopeful anyone might do, and the paper flicker of turning. — NAOMI SHIHAB NYE From the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here anthology, edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi, published by PM Press, 2012

Rick Olson, Al-Mutanabbi Street, print, USA

Mimi Schaer, Witness, artist book, USA Friederun Friedricks, Art Library, Germany


An excerpt from The Iraqi Nights In Iraq, after a thousand and one nights, someone will talk to someone else. Markets will open for regular customers. Small feet will tickle the giant feet of the Tigris. Gulls will spread their wings and no one will fire at them. Women will walk the streets without looking back in fear. Dan Wood, Manuscripts Don’t Burn, scroll, USA

Men will give their real names without putting their lives at risk. Children will go to school

Gini Wade, Peace, in the Name of Allah, print, USA

and come home again. Chickens in the villages won’t peck at human flesh on the grass. Disputes will take place without any explosives. A cloud will pass over cars heading to work as usual. A hand will wave to someone leaving or returning. The sunrise will be the same for those who wake and those who never will. And every moment something ordinary will happen under the sun. — DUNYA MIKHAIL Translated by Kareem James Abu Zeid, New Directions Publishing Company


Raphael Vella, I Want to Become a Prophet, Malta

Bev Samler, Untitled, print, UK

Wafaa Bilal, The Ashes Series, photograph


Sarah Kladler, Freedom, magic book, George Mason Unviersity

Catherine Cartwright, Shabandar Cafe, print

Despina Meimaroglou, Xenophontis Quae Extant, Greece

Leah Dwyer, Irreplicable, ď„Žlagbook, George Mason Unviersity


Community Response

The gallery was quite humbling to walk through. So much was lost for these people. However the use of the manuscripts to create art that is the Arabic culture is fascinating. The use of everyday items and products to create what was lost through sorrow is beautiful and, again, incredibly humbling.

Jenna Rinalducci Art and Art History Librarian George Mason University

Grace Gibson, Mason Student

Tragic. The bombing of bookstores in Baghdad. The destruction of human lives, thoughts, ideas, knowledge, culture, history. This hits close to home. My parents’ homeland of Afghanistan is subject to similar violence. These pieces of art are powerful. They tell me that the Iraqis of al-Mutanabbi street and elsewhere have no choice but to be resilient. So much pain, suffering, trauma, destruction caused by a needless and completely unavoidable war. I can only cynically laugh at the irony of a military recruitment poster right outside the gallery.

We are honored to display works from AlMutanabbi Street Starts Here, especially as the new library’s inaugural exhibit. Planning for the exhibits inspired us to add some of the artists’ books and broadsides to our own collection.”

“The written and spoken word of the artists and poets was very powerful. They crystalized the tragedy that occurred on al-Mutanabbi Street; yet there was also a sense of hope that permeated the images and words. Sadness yet hope.” Rita Rowand, Program Manager Global Relations & Protocol, Office of Global Strategy, George Mason University

Mohammad Ali Mojaddidy, Mason Student

Fire burns papers, but poetry is eternal. Leena M. Alkahmous, Mason Student

Image above: Rebecca Dant, There Will Always Be Words 24

In the artist’s work, the details of the words that were written in Arab language were very impressive and interesting. Some of the letters and books were burned, torn apart. The mood of this exhibition really touched me by making me think how terrifying and scary it would have been to witness that terrible scene. The artists’ choice of materials, letters, colors, and details of the exhibition really gave me a strong impression. I could not understand what the letters meant because it was written in different language, but I could really feel the extreme powerful feeling that those letters gave to me.

There is so much pain when you walk in the room. You can feel the loss. The print and etching by Hannah Wood and Ben Samler spoke the most to me. Just looking at the deeper meaning behind these pieces of art you can see the pain, suffering, and trauma that these people went through. Elizabeth Benedett, Mason Student

Julie Hwang, Mason Student

I am so humbled by this extraordinary effort to showcase the unbearable suffering of a nation through the arts. THANK YOU. Lama Dajani, viewer of the exhibitions at the George Mason galleries


BASA A M H A DDA D DIR ECTO R, MI DDLE EAS T AN D IS L AM IC S TU DIE S PROGRAM, AS S O CI ATE P R OF E S S OR , G E OR G E MAS O N UNI V E RS I TY S CHOOL OF POL IC Y, G O V E RNME NT, AND I NT E R N ATION AL AF F AIR S The AMSSH project has been a valuable part of student experience at GMU. When it is difficult to take students to the Middle East, AMSSH is bringing the Middle East to them. The program is rich and presents a vision and a version of the region that goes far beyond the one-dimensional view we witness in the media. I hope it is here to stay.




initially became involved in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project because I love books and the idea that someone would destroy a center of such sacred learning is unfathomable to me. Since then, I have learned so much more about Iraqi culture and also artwork. Interning with the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project has broadened my understanding of the art world, exposing me to ways that artists work with each other to create collaborative works of art. One of the most interesting aspects for me was the screenprinting workshop. Every year, George Mason’s School of Art’s Print Studio hosts a “Catch & Release” workshop. Participants, who do not need to have prior printing experience, work together to create a set of prints. This process is very exciting. Someone starts the print by making a background with

colorful ink on the poster. Then someone else “catches” it by taking the background and screenprinting an initial symbol on it. They “release” it back to the group, leaving it available for someone else to add to it. This continues until no one has anything else to add to the print. The “Catch & Release” workshop was the first time that I had done screenprinting The process involves treating a screen with chemicals and then exposing it to UV light with a transparency film of the design on top, blocking out some of the light. Then the screen is power washed, dissolving the chemical from the areas that were covered by the design, making the screen ready for printing. The screen has tiny holes in it and the areas that are not covered by the chemical are permeable. To print, the paper is positioned underneath the screen and ink is put on the screen on top of the design. Then the ink is pulled across the design with a squeegee, printing the design on the paper underneath. Most of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 interns were involved in the two-day print workshop. We each chose a design that related to Iraqi culture. The design that I chose for the screenprint process was the Hamsa. There are many other names for it: Khamsa, the Hand of Fatima, and the Hand of Miriam, to name a few. It is a strong symbol of power, protection, and strength in both the Muslim and Jewish traditions. It also represents the Five Pillars of Islam and the five books of the Torah. The main reason that I chose the Hamsa hand is that people who support a peaceful resolution to the Israeli conflict have adopted the hand as a way

Morteza Khakshoor, Gallus Meeting with the Assyrian, etching and aquatint


JESSICA K A L L ISTA FOUNDER/CURATO R OL LY O LLY, F AI RF AX, V I R G IN IA For Embracing the Power of Artistic Practice at Olly Olly, I deviated from selecting strictly book-related works in order to widen the scope of the project and instigate a conversation about the power of the artist (and in particular the six local artists chosen) to confront censorship and oppression, and to push personal parameters through both their artistic practice and lived experience. The exhibition is inspired by the AlMutanabbi couplet, “If you see the lion bare its teeth,/do not assume the lion is smiling,” and champions the power of the artist to utilize art as a powerful weapon in the face of intimidation, oppression, and fear. I take much inspiration from Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here as I work to grow Olly Olly as a cultural touchstone and meeting place for local artists and art lovers where ideas are discussed with passion and art flourishes in a way that not only engages audiences and supports local artists, but also facilitates vibrant and healthy growth of our creative landscape. Community and intellectual curiosity are at the center of being fully human, and an attack on al-Mutanabbi Street is an attack on the free exchange of ideas, on art as an expression and exploration of our humanity, and on our desire, need, and freedom to commune with others. Olly Olly, among so many others, shares this spirit with al-Mutanabbi Street: to build community by encouraging collaboration, compassion, and cooperation rather than competition; and to make space for artists and art forms that are normally underrepresented.

of highlighting the similarities of Jewish and Islamic traditions. This resonated with me because it relates to the purpose of the festival — to show that the people of Iraq are not very different from ourselves and that we can create beautiful things by working together. Everyone I have worked with throughout my experience with the project comes from a variety of backgrounds. Personally, many people assume that I am MiddleEastern because my name means “hope” in Arabic, when in fact my heritage is primarily European and my parents chose my name because it means “peace” in Swahili. I find the fusion of the two languages another example of the unity of all cultures. Throughout the past six

months, I have met and worked with so many people from across the world, like Abbas Khorsheed from Iraq, and Helen Zughaib, who is originally from Lebanon. I consider it a blessing that all of these people, who are gifted artists, poets, curators, and authors, can come together to create this festival. That is what I believe makes this festival important. Not only that it highlights the similarities between the Middle East and the United States, but also that it focuses on how there are people from the Middle East who have made the United States their home and that there are people from the United States who care deeply about their fellows in the Middle East. I hope the festival will be able to share this message with as many people as possible. 




he power of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 is its ability to guide us through the experiences unique to each perspective that ultimately connects us all. This project spans oceans, bringing together artists and writers from everywhere to give voice to the human experience we share no matter where we come from. My favorite aspects of this project are the empowerment creativity brings about, visible through the surprise participants exhibit when they create something beautiful; and seeing the gallery exhibitions come together, each with a specific focus and audience. Through my internship, I have been fortunate to be a part of assistance with curation, gallery tours, and art workshops with special needs students, the elderly, and alternative schools. It is an thoughtful exploration into pure expression and is accessible to all. How often do you see musicians or artists fully publicizing their process? Whether it was television, online, or at a museum, I felt like I was constantly seeing the finished product of someone’s creative process and it left me feeling like entry was exclusive. For me, it was totally overwhelming. Art without limits — be it music, painting, poetry, or dance has the power to bring to life history and make us all the active participants we are meant to be. The most fulfilling feeling I’ve ever experienced has been when the artists and musicians I work with make it very clear how untrue those fears are, and hand me a paintbrush or microphone saying, “Be yourself.” Politically this concept held true for me also through professors and teachers who told other sides of the story and exposed their students to news that viewed events as ever-changing rather than giving a static beginning, middle, and end.


Unfortunately, like most Americans in my generation, my first memories of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries were watching the twin towers falling on television, and hearing the many stories woven of “terrorists from a foreign land.” There is a great gap between isolated political events and the history, culture, and everyday life of the people of Iraq and the Middle East. The headlines constantly foretell the end of the world and ostracize an entire culture, leaving those who are not directly involved in lawmaking or near the actual event in confusion and/or picking a side rather than feeling like they can make a positive change. I remember sitting in my room looking at a dinar, the Iraqi dollar, with Sadam Hussein on it. My grandfather obtained it somehow in his travels, gave it to my father, who then gave it to me. We are not Iraqi, so I would always wonder where it came from and what it was like there. This project, coordinated at George Mason has allowed and encouraged me, and the entire Mason community, to ask these kinds of questions and explore cultures and perspectives outside of our native cultures in a public and expressive space. Just this month Mason hosted a panel on this dilemma of cross-cultural understanding, “The Politics of Translation.” The panelists included various Mason faculty whose specialties were in topics ranging political science, sociology, and Middle Eastern literature, as well as artists, journalists and poets. Each in turn spoke of how to bridge the gap between the West and the Middle East, and of the role literature and storytelling plays in communication between cultures. We have all seen the news reels and headlines about various aspects pertaining to Middle Eastern countries, often lumped together as one big mysterious and potentially dangerous place. Watching films of Iraqi civilians transformed what was once a sound bite into real people, real places; the art and traditional music giving it richness and color. The combination of arts and social media provides a platform for tangible cultural understanding. One quote that particularly struck me


MARC IA L YNX QUA L E Y EDITOR, ARAB LI T PAN ELIS T, “PO LI TI CS O F TRANS L ATION ” Nearly all the poems in the Smith Center’s “Night and the Desert Know Me” exhibition are well-known to me. I often re-read Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s “Rain Song,” just as I return to the poetry of Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati and Sargon Boulos. But seeing al-Bayati’s poem beside Michael Platt’s “Just Outside My Window #1” startled me into a new way of seeing of the poem, as did Shakir al Alousi’s vision of three women singing the “Rain Song.” The artists’ engagement with these very familiar poems opened up new ways of accessing them, new potential connections.

from the documentary About Bagdad directed by Bassam Haddad, was of an Iraqi man who spoke the potent words, “When I see an American tank rolling down our streets I feel as if it is rolling over my own heart.” Iraqi citizens told stories of displacement, confusion, unemployment and of bombs injuring their trust and pride as hard as their lands. On the other hand, the American soldiers present were convinced they could help bring balance in the country’s internal struggle with change in the people in power. One soldier said it was his duty to do for the people of Iraq what “they could not do for themselves,” a phrase that mirrored Bush administration rhetoric surrounding the war. This juxtaposition shows the grave misinformation and lack of cultural integration.

of culture besides words and quantitative values? Could art and music be that? And lastly, what can everyday people do to be empowered and see themselves in the context of all that goes on in the world to better understand the context of their neighbors the world over? Perhaps being left with questions is for the best as questions inspire growth and change, whereas answers at best inspire peace and at worst stagnation. I am grateful that I am learning how to see through this rhetoric as part of this project, and believe it is possible to build bridges by standing in solidarity with the people of Iraq through the arts. 

This project, the panel, and my own studies in art and music leave me more with questions than they do answers. Questions like: How do we, Westerners, begin to conceptualize what is happening in places of war from the perspective of people represented by those who are doing the bombing, let alone from our place of privilege? How do we share a culture while maintaining the integrity and purity of said culture? Is there another vehicle for the paradigms

Folding pocket maps in the gallery



MAR IA NNE E PSTE IN CH IE F GRAPHI C DES I GNE R When I first heard about the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016, it struck me as a very exciting design challenge. The festival encompasses such a rich variety of events — spanning cultures, cities, schools, galleries, museums, libraries, art, books, poetry, film — and design can do so much to unify all of these elements into a recognizable whole. I loved collaborating with such a dedicated team of volunteers to bring the festival brand to life. I particularly enjoyed mentoring Danielle, our design intern who helped execute so many of the printed pieces that now sit in galleries across D.C. as well as in the homes of those who picked them up. This magazine represents a culmination of the effort of so many, and I hope it will help to keep the experience alive in our minds after the festival dates have come and gone.


D R. SUMA IYA H A MDA NI A SSOCI ATE PRO F ES S O R OF H IS TOR Y & AR T H ISTO RY, GE O RGE MAS O N U N IVE R S ITY A LI VURAL AK CENTER F O R G L OB AL IS L AM IC ST U DI E S S TEERI NG CO MM ITTE E M E M B E R Mason celebrates the global in so many ways: in emphasizing global studies and projects in its curriculum, and fostering global partnerships, and in welcoming a diverse and globally representative student body. Still, we often forget that the global is not just “over there” and “the other.” We share everywhere the same yearning for freedom of expression, freedom from violence and oppression, and these are so compellingly represented in the artists and art of the multiple exhibits commemorating the struggle of the Iraqi people against the death and destruction that has visited and continues to visit their country. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project connects our localities to the global realities in ways that are universally understood and felt.


Designing in Print


joined the the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here team as a graphic design intern in the midsummer months of 2015. Those initial months marked the collaborative creation and of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 website that I helped to design with the professional mentorship and direction of Mason MA Graphic Designer, Marianne Epstein. The website led seamlessly into the first printed editions in the Fourth Estate newspaper, which appeared in the initial weeks of the fall 2015 semester. The continuing serial publications throughout the fall semsester featured statements by partners of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC, poetry, artist statements, student responses, and calendars of upcoming events. In the first several editions, the design of the page spreads varied. As I continued to work with each design, I consequently came to understand more about the mission of this project. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here features artists and poets of different identities from across the globe, who make a direct connection to al-Mutanabbi Street. From the AMSSH artist book, print and broadside inventory we selected images that best represented the diversity of the project. The newspaper spreads eventually developed their own rhythm. It helped me achieve a relationship with the project by way of my responsibilities for the design of double page spreads every two weeks. Over winter break, I had the opportunity to work on several additional design projects with Marianne. This was the first time I had worked on a project this widespread. Marianne and I would meet and discuss the objectives of the designs. She would begin the initial design and then hand off what we had started. At first I was nervous to take over the entire design, in fear that I would completely ruin the project. However, with her steady guidance, I always found a clear direction. The first major design project was creating the three brochures for the exhibitions, literary, and film events.

Image left: Folding pocket maps in the gallery


They laid the foundation for the other print designs. The brochures provided a color scheme and example works of art for each topic. They were eventually compiled into a folding pocket map of the Washington, D.C. metro area. The pocket brochure is one of the most complicated and ambitious projects I have worked on. The technical aspects were new to me and there was a significant amount of information to keep organized, coming from different sources at all times. As I began working on other projects, an exhibition booklet and exhibition poster, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I had the text I needed and I knew what images I could assimilate. Similar to how artists and poets joined in solidarity to support the the people of Iraq, by contributing to the Al-Mutanabbi exhibition inventory, we have been organizing, planning, and designing materials to make the AMSSH DC 2016 project visible to the Washington, D.C. population and reaches far beyond the limits of the district, stretching into Maryland and Virginia. As a designer, there is always a nervous moment of suspense when I first look at a design after it has been officially printed. I silently hope that all the information made into the final document and there are no glaring mistakes. This anxious moment is followed by relief when everything is correct. The positive response to these designs from partners and other people working on the project has been amazing. When attending AMSSH events, I am able to smile to myself as people pass out posters and pick up brochures, knowing that they will find other events that will broaden their experience of art, books, and the Arab and Muslim worlds. ď ´




s a graphic design student at George Mason University, interning for Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project has been an enriching experience. To participate in this unique global festival that stands in solidarity with the people of Iraq, celebrates freedom of expression, and engages the public through a series of events from January 14th through March 20th, has given me a new perspective about the Middle East. Open to the community, there are over fifty events being hosted in D.C. ranging from exhibits, panels and responses to poetry readings, and film screenings. Opening receptions for galleries include: Absence and Presence and Nahid and Nasrin Navab — Hushed Revolt at the McLean Project for the Arts; The Night and the Desert Know Me at Smith Center for the Healing Arts; Embracing the Power of Artistic Practice at Olly Olly Gallery; Artists Books from the Fenwick at Fenwick Library at George Mason University; An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street and Absence and Presence in the School of Art Fine Arts Gallery (GMU); Michael Rakowitz —The invisible enemy should not exist in the School of Art Fine Arts Gallery


(GMU); “Morteza Khakshoor — “What has become of your strength” at Mason Hall Atrium Gallery, (GMU), and lastly Come together: American Artists Respond to AlMutanabbi Street at the Smithsonian AA/PG library. One of the events I attended was the Absence and Presence on Thursday January 14th, 2016 at the McLean Project for the Arts. The beautiful reception successfully received over 200 attendees, as the walls of the gallery were lined with art more powerful than words. The goal of this opening, and all other events, is to commemorate the 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s historic bookselling street, and to celebrate free exchange of ideas and knowledge. At this venue Al-Mutanabbi Street, by Mary McCarthy and Shirley Veenema begins with a depiction of a delicate book, tucked beneath sand, and then leads the viewer into each section of the colorful, foldable book. Al-Mutanabbi Street, March 5,2007, by Art Hazelwood, another foldable concertina style artist book, establishes a global literary connection through an almost surreal image around the world. Street of Booksellers, by Frances


S USA N G RA ZIA NO DI RECTO R O F ADV ANCE M E N T, G E O RGE MAS O N UNI V E R S ITY C OL L E G E O F V I S UAL AND PERF O R M IN G AR TS I was originally drawn into the project by Helen Frederick to support her and the team of partners to submit the grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts. The project is impressive in its reach to a wide variety of cultural and academic institutions in the area, the quality and breadth of programs, and the impact of its message promoting the free exchange of ideas and the power of the word and the book. AMSSH expands the Mason experience by drawing our attention to this important issue, and providing numerous opportunities to explore the topic of the free exchange of ideas through a multitude of programs and platforms both on campus and throughout the D.C. area. This project opens avenues for interdisciplinary curriculum including the study of Arabic languages, history, writing, the visual arts, arts management, art history, global affairs and more.

Jetter serves as a strong and clear depiction of a street of dreams. He uses roots as a connection along with books as the voices of people along with imagery of faces emerging from the books themselves. His use of text serves as an influential tool to get his message across the beautiful foldable book. Not a Straight Line, by Emily Martin, is a playful string of books, and one of my favorite designs. An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street by Grendi Lofkvist, represents the aftermath of the bombing and destruction caused. It is an overall emotion filled representation of damage inflicted on the bookselling street. Lastly, Ask Why, by Ronnie Komarow contained a very strong design. When the book is first opened the first page is shattered glass, and there is a faint image in the glass of a gentle face. These are just to list a few of the many stunning works I was fortunate to witness that evening. I specifically chose

these books from Absence and Presence exhibition at McLean Project for the Arts to focus on, because of the relevant images they depicted. It is palpable that such imagery can not only impact the viewer and tell a story, but also evoke strong memorable emotions. These works that I have described touched me the most, and for a moment I was not standing in a gallery, but in a world they had illustrated. As an Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) intern, I had the opportunity to witness the behind the scenes efforts, from planning to installation, that went into preparing such an extensive project. Furthermore, it was a magnificent view, that of a community coming together to support a cultural festival that is standing in solidarity with the people of Iraq. It is important to appreciate how fortunate we are to be able to participate in such an enlightening festival and celebrate freedom of expression. 

Image right: Alpert Laurie’s artist book “Iraqi Peace Song”, featured in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here exhibition, SoA Fine Arts Gallery


F We Should Counter Hate with Poetry and Culture SHATHA ALMUTA WA E MA RATI, SP LI T THI S RO CK P ROG RA M AS S O CI ATE

Image Top: A visitor viewing the artist books and prints in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here exhibition, SoA Fine Arts Gallery. Image Right: Juan Fuentes, Iraq, Woodcut 34

ollowing the Paris terrorist attacks, the colours of the French flag began to appear on American computer and phone screens, on the icons of apps and the faces of friends on Facebook. At the same time in America, those with connections to the Middle East lamented the absence of sympathy and solidarity with the people of Lebanon, who were targeted only one day earlier, and the people of Syria, Palestine and Iraq, who suffer every day. The disparity is stark, undeniable, and expressive. For many Muslims and Arabs, this disparity means what many other western actions have meant: Arab and Muslim lives are cheaper than western, Christian lives.

At moments like this I am grateful to have found the AlMutanabbi Street Starts Here project. Started by Beau Beausoleil after the March 5, 2007 bombing of the booksellers’ street in Baghdad, it brought together artists and poets to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq, celebrating and remembering Iraq’s history with the word, from the cuneiform epic of Gilgamish to the beautiful poetry of such figures as Fadhil Al Azzawi and Amal Al Jubouri. Since that bombing, artists and poets in the United States and abroad have been creating original work and sharing it with audiences familiar and unfamiliar with the events in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. For the ninth time, poets and artists will commemorate the 2007 bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street. They will congregate in the United States capital for three months of events celebrating Arabic sounds, voices, imagery and thought from January through March 2016. Galleries, universities, and libraries in and around Washington, DC, will display prints made by people from around the world, Arab and non-Arab, Muslim and nonMuslim, young and not so young, intimately familiar and new to the heritage and traditions of Al-Mutanabbi, the namesake of both the street and the project. Americans have much to distract them from the violent realities happening elsewhere, but these Americans are working tirelessly on Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, because they do not see the bombing of a street in Baghdad as separate from their own people falling victim to injustices in their own cities and streets. Death counts are harrowing and often ignored, but in Iraq and in America, racism and inequality are only sometimes veiled, often manifest. And yet this project is not about the politics of injustice; it is about the women and men who prevail, thinking, dreaming, writing and reading despite the blood and bombs. It is about life, whether in war or in peace — its everyday moments, and its extraordinary moments. It is about a world of imagination, playful and serious at once.

When Dunya Mikhail writes: He watches TV while she holds a novel. On the novel’s cover there’s a man watching TV and a woman holding a novel. We recognize the scene, whether we are Arab or American, or both. And that is the point of the project. It shows that the people of Iraq are familiar to people in America. They love and write and read and sing, even though the circumstances of their lives are now unfamiliar. Ours is one of many projects that seek to create bridges. If many around the world have forgotten or ignored the humanity of the people in the Middle East, many still are refusing to forget.  Shatha Almutawa is an Emirati working with Split This Rock, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., calling poets to a greater role in public life and fostering a network of socially engaged poets. This article first appeared in The National on November 24, 2015


Street Festival Washington DC March 19, 2016



he March 2007 suicide car-bomb attack destroyed the entire perimeter of al-Mutanabbi Street, decimating Baghdad’s centuries-old intellectual and cultural community. In response to this tragedy, artists from all over the world have come to share a sense of solidarity — as well as ownership — in a project that refuses to let that day, and its significance, ever be forgotten. Consider our own cultural street in D.C.’s Northeast neighborhood of Brookland near Catholic University. A thriving hub that contributes a specific type of vibrant energy that feeds the soul of the local community. Imagine if it was suddenly ripped from us in mere moments. How would you respond? How would those on the other side of the world respond? Beau Beausoleil responded, he is a San Francisco bookseller, poet, and community activist for whom the assault on Al-Mutanabbi Street touched a deep nerve. Through his relationship with the book and as a purveyor of ideas and culture, the bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street allowed Beausoleil to see, feel, and experience the distant horrific events of daily news headlines about the destruction in Iraq. Beau’s Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a grass roots project that operates loosely through a goodwill-based coalition of hundreds of book lovers, artists, letterpress printers, and community members from across the world. Those participating come to this project to share in Beausoleil’s vision: to respond, reflect, and express through art and community a much larger and human connection to others who have been rendered voiceless by war and violence.


Detail of screen print bookmark

Nasrin Navab, rendering for the Pop-up Street Festival

Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, Iraq

Community arts projects as part of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here can take many forms. Activities can involve groups of people coming together — either individually or through a community partner organization — to create artistic activities or works with the help and guidance of integrated artists. These projects can involve a large or small number of people, more than one community partner or group. Specifically, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 focuses on our specific goal to create collaborative arts experiences for community members that bond disparate populations and cultures while deepening our understanding of each other. The multiple D.C. exhibitions, poetry readings, discussions, and talks exposed our communities to a wide variety of expression from the individual to collective response to the tragic events of March 2007. The culminating Street Festival in the Brookland neighborhood hopes to build on these responses and provide an opportunity for community art-making that draws on the skills of local artists to use collaborative arts processes — such as printmaking, papermaking, printing and calligraphy — as catalysts for our community to experiment with forms of expression and creativity, but also to provide an opportunity for participants to foster new ideas and involve them in critical thinking through a shared visual and spoken dialogue.


On March 19th, the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project will culminate in a Street Festival as the resident artists from Monroe Street are united with local artisans and community members from across the ARTWALK studios and businesses on Monroe Street, Washington DC, site of the March 19th Street Festival honoring Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here


metropolitan area to participate in book exchanges, poetry readings, and vibrant discussions. Participants will enjoy traditional Middle Eastern coffee, teas and foods. Free, familyfriendly activities will include: simple bookmaking from single sheets of paper; a hand papermaking exchange where participants create a piece of paper using pulp from clothing and exchange it for a ready-made sheet. They will then be able to take the new paper and experiment with age old calligraphy techniques; or print on the paper using a variety of silk-screen images, making images using relief techniques, or experience the free flowing nature of monoprinting. The Monroe Street Artist Studios will be open allowing community members to engage the artists, make something, be creative and relax, while enjoying the music and refreshments.


CO L L E E N O ’ B R I E N G R AD U ATE S TU DE N T, AR TS M AN AG E M E N T PR OG R AM , S TR E E T F E S TIVAL AS S IS TAN T How does Western civilization move past hateful and biased assumptions about a population outside of their own and accept neighbors for who they are? I believe it is through cultural exchange. Schools begin this journey, by teaching students about the different world religions and about being a global citizen. The United States has been actively in and out of the Middle East for various reasons for the last 25 years, and most Millenials know little about the countries there. I watched an animated film called Persepolis, based on a two part graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. It features the main character’s life-story as a young girl growing up in the upheaval of the 1979 revolution in Iran and

To leave the quiet and sanctity of the artist studio for art-making in public spaces invites the kind of interchange that can connect disparate segments of a community around a cause like Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. By providing art making processes at skill levels applicable for all participants, results not only in a flow of creative expression, but also a stream of dialogue that dispels misinformation, deepens understanding, and strengthens the foundation of our local community.

its aftermath. The depiction of her post-revolution life is what made me want to join the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project. This, along with another film I watched called My Tehran for Sale, about an underground theatre artist, made me want to learn about Iran, its people and how they flourish artistically. These films widened my understanding so I would not think of persons from another culture as “Other”. This vast and wide-reaching project commemorates the Al-Mutanabbi Street book selling district in Baghdad, destroyed by a bomb on March 5, 2007. It has since been rebuilt, but this cultural festival (held in numerous cities worldwide) strives to commemorate the fight for free speech

The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Street Festival culminates at the Busboys and Poets in the Bailey Room from 7-9:00pm with poetry readings and performances as we collectively reflect on Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC and the imprint it has left on our community and ourselves. 


and expression in the Middle Eastern world and everywhere these fundamental human rights are threatened. One of the project’s key events that I am involved with is the March 19th Street Festival that will take place on the Art Walk on Monroe Street in Northwest Washington, D.C.

SPOTLIGHT ON... JAS ON H A RTSE L G RAP HI C DES I GNE R ASSI S TANT DI RE CTO R, S TU DE N T M E DIA Creative expression is a fundamental freedom that is often taken for granted in American society. The ability to present and encounter new ideas through art, music, and language — especially the written word — is vital to the human condition. As an artist and someone who works to help students formulate and express their unique point of view, my livelihood depends on the liberties guaranteed in our first amendment. But more than that, my emotional and spiritual well-being is inextricably bound to the art, music, and culture I experience or create. That is why I am so proud to be a part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project. It has been a pleasure working with many talented Mason students and faculty on producing this publication, and it is our hope that the articles and artwork featured here will allow the community to experience the spirit of al-Mutanabbi Street long after the events and exhibits have concluded. Celebrating and defending the free exchange of ideas, knowledge, and art as an act of solidarity with those whose voices are being suppressed around the globe is not only the right thing to do, it is the duty of all who enjoy such freedoms without fear of persecution.




This publication is funded by a grant from the Auxiliary Enterprise Management Council. Student Media is an office of University Life.


Recycle Me!

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Witness & Memory  

Witness & Memory is a new magazine created by Mason students to chronicle the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project.

Witness & Memory  

Witness & Memory is a new magazine created by Mason students to chronicle the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 project.

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