Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

A Community Connections Project

February 25, 2016 – April 23, 2016

Curated by: Bill Denham

An iconic event happened on March 5, 2007. A car bomb exploded on al Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, killing 30 and wounding 100, which made it no different from hundreds of other explosions across the country—explosions which continue to this day—that kill and injure the innocent. But this was al Mutanabbi Street – the ancient booksellers’ street, the street of the Shabandar Café where Iraqi writers, intellectuals, and ordinary people would congregate to work, to write, to converse, to discuss, and to argue about ideas.This was an attack on books and on ideas.

And as such, it joined a long history of the ritual burning of books, like the one that took place in Nazi Germany on May 10, 1933, as an organized, orchestrated effort to discourage the pursuit of truth and free expression of ideas. The car bomb realized, in one fell swoop, the prediction, ”Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people,” made by the beloved nineteenth century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine.
This was an attack that pierced the heart of San Francisco poet and bookseller, Beau Beausoliel. Beausoliel, feeling the need to respond in some way to the atrocity, put out a call to letterpress printers and poets to express their own responses to the bombing by creating broadsides. “We are among the pages of every book that was shredded and burned and covered with flesh and blood that day . . . We say, as poets, writers, artists, booksellers, printers and readers al Mutanabbi Street starts here!”

And so, the al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! Coalition was born. 130 printers, poets, and artists responded, and Beausoliel began to organize showings and readings. Conversations grew out of the responses to these 130 broadsides. Over the years and through subsequent calls, the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! Coalition has grown to over 600 international artists, poets, writers, printers, and print makers. And their work has been displayed in over 25 cities including Cairo, Egypt, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Dearborn, Manchester, England, the Netherlands, London, England, Dublin, Ireland, and Los Angeles. And now for the first time 16 of these original artifacts are in Portland, Oregon through May 15, 2016 along with numerous other responses in the form of prints and artist books.

You can view works from Al Mutanabbi Starts Here! at the following locations:
Museum of Contemporary Craft, Community Showcase: February 25– April 23, 2016
Art + Design Gallery, Portland State University: February 29 – March 25, 2016
Collins Gallery, Multnomah Central Library: March 5 – May 15, 2016
Portland Community College: March 28 – May 15, 2016.


The Community Showcase Gallery exhibits outstanding community artwork and featured partnership projects. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here!, was organized by artist and poet Bill Denham, and by Ashley Gibson, Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Coordinator of the Museum of Contemporary Craft.