I first became involved with 'An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street
' in the summer of 2011 when I responded to the call put out by poet, bookseller and founder of The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here
Coalition, Beau Beausoleil, by making Falling Gently
. This was for artists to complete three books over the course of a year that reflected both the strength and fragility of books, but also to show the endurance of the ideas within them. Beau asked for work that reflected the targeted attack on this street of booksellers as well as the ultimate futility of those who try to erase thought.
The latest call, as a part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here
project, is a photography project, Shadow & Light, bearing witness to targeted academics in Iraq who have been ruthlessly murdered.
This time, the intention is to take from historical invisibility, to commemorate the hundreds of academics (lecturers, professors, teachers) that were assassinated in Iraq during the US-led invasion and occupation, during the years 2003-2012. During this period, over 300 teachers, both Sunni and Shia, were targeted by various groups with no one group taking responsibility. The assassinations occurred on university campuses, at the homes of teachers, and sometimes while they were driving.
Did you have a teacher who inspired you? Was there a lecturer who fired your imagination? Are you indeed, a teacher? Would you contribute to this project?
This was an attempt to shut down academic freedom and free speech, things we take for granted but that we know all too well must be preserved and supported. If you are an artist, a poets, a writer, an academic, a teacher, a translator, or a photographer you are welcome to take part.
My image for Shadow and Light. Taken in the field at the front of my house very early on a still September morning, when I watched the sun come up, while the mist in the valley and vapour trials in the sky slowly shift and fade, transient and temporary as dreams.
No.245 Kathum Mashhout: Lecturer in edaphology at the College of Agriculture, Basra University. Killed in Basra in December 2006 [exact date unknown]. [Source: CEOSI Iraqi university sources, 12 December 2006]
Edaphology: relating to the soil. Any property of the soil, physical or chemical, that influences the plants growing in that soil. How can someone lecturing on the effect of soils on the growth of plants be seen as an enemy, it beggars belief. These killings are a shameful and random, violent attempt to shut down academic freedom, free speech and the sharing of knowledge.
Standing in silence and looking out at the sun rising on a green washed autumn morning, as mist settles and shifts, I’m looking for an echo, an idea of a man I will never meet . . . did he ever stand, I wonder, alone to watch the sun rise over dew soaked fields, watching mist in the valley and vapour trails in the sky; shifting, fluid . . . transient and temporary as dreams.
Unlike the soil underneath my feet. The rich loam on which I stand, home to a myriad life forms, land that has been husbanded for generations (was he a husband? . . a father? . . did he love, and was he loved in return?) Would he have recognised anything of his Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of agriculture, in these scratchy, stubble grazed fields of a soft, still, northern hemisphere morning?
I study the view again and watch the light change to a brighter hue as the day gathers strength. It’s beautiful to watch. It is calm and so very still. Not quite alone, I am here carrying with me the ghost of a man I’ve never seen, into a wide open, and deserted field to find some trace resonant with another, so we can watch the light change together.
Hearing them first, I become aware of a horde of crows tearing out from the trees, racing to harry a red kite. Falling into air. Plunging at her head with bitter black cries, their dark shapes wheeling over the land. I watch discomfited at their shadows running. Disconnected. Spinning, coursed on like a hare.
Dropping my phone. Stooping to touch the soil; and I see for one flickering instant as if through the cataracts of a ghosts clouded eye.
If you're interested in finding out more, below is part of the text from an email Beau sent, August 2018, with links.
SHADOW AND LIGHT
I am writing to you specifically as fellow artists, writers, poets, activists, image-makers, printers, teachers/academics, translators, and amateur and professional photographers. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project has added a fourth visual call and response (in addition to the broadside/letter press response, the artists’ book response (including our small bookmark project), and the printmaking response).
This time, the intention is to take from historical invisibility, to memorialize and to honour the hundreds of academics (lecturers, professors, teachers) that were assassinated in Iraq during the US-led invasion and occupation, during the years 2003-2012. During this period, over 300 teachers were targeted by various groups with no one group taking responsibility. The assassinations occurred on university campuses, at the homes of teachers, and sometimes while they were driving. We cannot calculate the loss to the families of these victims, as well as the loss to the entire intellectual community of Iraq.
The targeted assassinations of hundreds of Iraqi academics was an attempt to erase and intimidate those who teach, write, do research, and work to carry knowledge and collective and personal memories forward. Free speech and the free exchange of ideas is as important in a classroom as it is on al-Mutanabbi Street.
I’ve come to the conclusion that since we are honoring targeted academics, we don’t necessarily need only professional photographers; rather, we need someone who understands the wider implications of these kinds of targeted assassinations. Perhaps the most daunting thing for a non-professional photographer would be following the material guidelines to prepare the photo for the project. If you understand this project and if you would consider joining, then choose the name of an academic and the details of their assassination as a reference point. The photograph we ask for should be a landscape image, either urban or in nature; it can be constructed or found. It could be an empty room or an open field, an urban parking lot or a grove of trees. You could simply take a picture of the first resonant empty space that you encounter. Some measure of understanding needs to be traversed and the only life it should hold is the remnant of the person that the photographer has chosen to represent. A key element here, is that the image is empty of people. The photograph itself buys us time with the viewer. The photograph should hold the body in place. Your image should hold this person in a kind of emptiness that is palpable, an emptiness that has enough small details in it for the viewer to slowly consider, and then, their vision should drift down to the name you have chosen and then back up again to the image. The photograph has to be strong but it also has to give way to the person that somehow inspired the image. The photo should be a way to take the viewer to the name and the life that held it. You will know the balance when you see it.
Beau Beausoleil - Founder - Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here - email@example.com
Note: Choose a name from the following link below with the accompanying number. Let me know who you have chosen. Create your image after you have picked a name from the list of assassinated academics, rather than using a photograph you may have already taken.
SHADOW AND LIGHT GUIDELINES:
1) 6 copies of one or two images.
2) Use any kind of paper you want.
3) Photo size: 8 x 10 or 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 14.
4) Any photographic process: colour inkjet printing, black and white, analog darkroom printing, mail order printing processes.
5) Please include the usual exhibit details about your photographs: title of your print, your name, country, subject’s name, print technique.
6) Sign and date on the back of the photograph
7) Please include an artist’s statement of up to 400 words. It’s important to remember that this is a project of art in the service of ideas rather than a work for an art exhibition. Within your statement let us know your “point of entry” for what you are trying to get at or reflect upon with your photograph.
8) You have six months to complete this project, from the date you notify me that you are interested in participating with this project.
Artists’ Book Project (An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street – Click into a gallery and then onto any book image to see more views of the book and read the artist’s statement.
Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides – http://www.library.fau.edu/…/collect…/al-mutanabbi/index.php