A car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, on 5th March 2007. To date there have been three artist made responses to this action: 130 broadsides by letterpress artists, 260 artist books, and 125 writers and poets have contributed to the anthology al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. The project as a whole includes participants from 25 countries.
The latest response, Absence and Presence is a printmaking project. Printmaking makes an impression, the mirror image from the plate and just as the bombing of Al Mutanabbi Street is reflected in the work produced by letterpress and book artists, writers and poets, now printmakers will be witness to this event.
“Absence and Presence: A Printmaking Response to the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street” is co-ordinated in the UK by Catherine Cartwright
It's a privilege to be invited to be a part of a global coalition of artists, poets and writers, and I've taken time reflecting on what my response would be.
In the end, for me, it all comes down to one thing, to live a life with freedom from fear. Simple things such as a visit to the market, or the library without the fear of violence . . . reliable clean running water . . . mutual respect and trust . . .
Al Mutanabbi Street is a street of booksellers and as such I started with words. Powerful things, words. Evidenced, throughout the ages, by the burning of books and the persecution of poets and writers.
To reflect and respond to the bombing of the bookseller’s quarter in Baghdad I wanted to create a print that required careful examination. All that is absent is hard to read, because all that is absent is hard to find in Baghdad . . . all that is present is easy to see, because we can see it all too clearly . . . all that is present is linked and therefore those words too are linked . . . all that is absent is fractured, therefore, yes you've got it . . .
To be part of a global coalition that states that wherever people talk freely and creativity breaths, that's where Al Mutanabbi Street starts, has made me conscious that wherever people feel they have deeply ingrained and often historical grievances (Ireland, Scotland, Wales also?) we must all take time to listen to each other because our freedoms are hard won and too easily lost. Writing this I realise that I've missed out one very important word in my print, empathy.
Empathy with people we feel fundamentally opposed to? Hard. But I suspect that until all parties try this nothing much will change.
The text I've included on my print comes from Aung San Suu Kyi who succinctly sums up the importance of living in freedom from fear.
“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure.
It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that, might is right, to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”
Aung San Suu Kyi