Baghdad exhibit opens at UNO Art Gallery

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By April Wilson, Senior Staff Writer

A tragic suicide car bombing serves as the inspiration for the UNO art gallery’s second exhibition of the semester. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project features book and letterpress pieces as a response to the March 5, 2007 bombing of the book and cultural center in Baghdad, Iraq. It opened Oct. 6 and will close Nov. 3.

The project, cultivated and collected by San Francisco native poet and book seller Beau Beausoleil, includes 75 hand printed and digital broadsides as well as eight artistic books. The pieces are from artists in the U.S., Australia and Canada. The display has been all over the world including the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada and various U.S shows, said Beausoleil.

The broadsides are one-dimensional, but each varies wildly in color and message. Some are loud and bold using words to convey their message. Many include bits of Iraqi poetry. One of the most poignant pieces has a poem in both Arabic and English translation that is separated by a large burned hole, wildly sewn together with delicate black thread.

International Studies senior, Ali Mohammed, a Saudi Arabian native, said he finds the display really touching.

“It shows how we share the idea of knowledge among the vast cultures of the Middle East.”

The project was born of Beausoleil’s empathy with the loss of Al-Mutanabbi Street known as the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community.

“The whole thing about reading about the war in Iraq is that every day you would turn the page and it would be one more horror and then another horror, and the page seemed to always have to be turned to the next terrible event,” said Beausoleil. “When the bombing happened…as soon as I read about it, I knew that that was where my bookshop would be and as a poet this would be my cultural community.”

In response, he organized a reading at the main library in San Francisco and asked letterpress printers for a personal response. He  received 43 broadsides in the first three months, and in 2010 he asked artistic bookmakers to contribute as well. To date, 258 artistic books have been pledged, and eight examples of those works can be seen in the UNO display.

“We needed to acknowledge the devastation that has happened to the arts community in Iraq,” said Beausoleil. “This project tries to show that Al-Mutanabbi Street can be any street here that holds a bookstore or a cultural institution. It is important for us to see that [connection]…this is where empathy starts, and it is my way of showing the U.S. artistic community’s empathy and sorrow for the loss of Iraq’s artistic and literary community.”

Beausoleil gave the keynote speech at the UNO European and Global Studies Conference held Oct. 6 to Oct. 8. He also hosted a round table discussion about the control and erasure of an academic arts community during the conference.

Al-Mutanabbi is accompanied by the documentary “A Candle for the Shabandar Café” by Iraqi filmmaker Emad Ali. The award winning film pays homage to the café that stood on Al-Mutanabbi since 1917 and was a well known gathering place for those in the artistic and literary community of Baghdad.

There is also a smaller exhibition of art work from the Pedagogical University of Cracow in Poland.

The exhibit closes Nov. 3. The gallery is located in Weber Fine Arts building on the first floor. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Appointments are also available by calling (402) 554-2796 or emailing gallery coordinator Denise Brady at dbrady@unomaha.edu.

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