I had a year to make this print, which sounded like a long time when I decided to join with the other artists, writers and poets that have responded so far. I was initially contacted by the UK co-ordinator Catherine Cartwright. Why did I decide to take part? Catherine sent me some material to read plus a series of photographs from the bookseller’s district. The images were the deciding factor: portraits of a community sharing stories that was then brutally shattered. A friend of mine said (very wisely) that our story is what makes us who we are; we are not who we are without our stories. How true. All our stories need to be kept alive and the community that shares them needs to be rebuilt when it is blown apart.
Over the year I have read the extraordinary contents of the book ‘Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here’, I went to see the exhibition of art books and broadsheets at The Mosaic Rooms in London. I also, like everyone else, have had a year punctuated by hearing news from Iraq that is unbearably hard to hear and impossible to make sense of, but I am listening to that news from the safe comfort of peace. This work made me acutely aware of that contrast.
Beau Beausoleil, poet, bookseller and founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts here movement has provided encouraging words to those of us responding. He encouraged us to ‘’struggle with the ideas…discard what comes easy...’’
Struggling with the ideas was always going to be part of the deal with this print but what about discarding what comes easy? I decided to embrace the ethos of the project and not rely on methods for making prints that I have used for previous work. Instead I tried techniques that were new to me and embarked on working with non-toxic etching. I was experimenting as I went along and I had some unpredictable results. I thought I had ruined my plate on at least one occasion. I was thinking of starting again but instead kept working through with the existing plate as it felt the right thing to do for the integrity of both the print and for the spirit of the project.
The nature of printmaking is that it is always possible to make another print from the plate you have made. Each print will be slightly different and sometimes those differences are unpredictable and frustrating but the hope is that they will all tell the story you wanted to tell. I hope the print I have made speaks about the shock and loss felt when Al-Mutanabbi Street was bombed, but also the will and spirit of the community to carry on and rebuild another.
For more information about the project follow this link
Dialogue related to the exhibitions of the prints from "Absence and Presence" will begin in December of 2014 at the inaugural exhibition at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Additional exhibitions will be held in the US, UK, Middle East and North Africa from 2015-2017.