In Room 236 of the Smith Memorial Student Union on PSU campus, three Arabic and three English presenters will read among them twelve poems with each poem presented in both languages, like the following poem by Naomi Shibab Nye, Jerusalem. Questions and discussion will follow.
I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.
Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother's doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.
Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am a native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.
Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head slightly
There’s a place in my brain
where hate won't grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.
It’s late but everything comes next.ا
Dr. Tom Hastings from Portland State University and Anne-Marie Oliver and Barry Sanders from The Oregon Institute for Creative Research/E4 and Nawzad Othman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the World Affairs Council of Oregon will discuss art and social justice. The panel will be moderated by Tim DuRoche of the World Affairs Council. There will be a question and answer period.
Multnomah Central Library US Bank Conference Room
Tom Hastings teaches, researches, and writes about social movements. He is an Assistant Professor in the PSU Conflict Resolution Department. He thinks of “art in the context of social justice to be crucial to the connections needed to build social movements that bring about the best and most sustainable just relations. Music, graphics, works of fiction, and the many digital innovative artistic expressions growing more available every day--all can touch our emotional, identity-based core. A Scottish bagpipe can inspire the sacrifice of a life for the common defense. A mural can invoke chaos or calm. A work of extrapolative fiction can be the bloom of another possible world--dystopic or utopic. A ballad of intent to win freedom can give courage in the face of brutal oppression. A film can inspire the overthrow of a dictator."
Anne-Marie Oliver — A cultural theorist, photographer, and documentarian, her work at the juncture of art and politics has appeared in Critical Inquiry, Partisan Review, The International Journal of Comparative Sociology, and others. Oliver says, “Given the substantial risks and dangers inherent to carrying out any serious protest, intervention, or act of social justice today—and I would increasingly place ecology under the rubric of social justice—art provides not only protection (immunological, legal, and other) but also, more fundamentally, the ability to force the invisible into visibility, the insensible into sensibility. For these reasons, it is increasingly the prerequisite and starting point for activism. Art prepares us for what is coming, as McLuhan warned; paradoxically, however, it is also capable of luring us into unreality and untruth through distraction, deception, and stupefaction—the fantastic call to oblivion—thereby causing us to misrecognize the sites where the real action is taking place, the real battles that must be fought, the real villains who must be stopped.
Nawzad Othman is the CEO of The Othman Group; founder and former CEO of Otak; Chair, Board of Trustees, World Affairs Council of Oregon. He was born in Ebril into a Kurdish family with deep connections to the history and evolution of the Kurdistan region. Nawzad emigrated to the US when he was 18. Nawzad believes, “Iraq has an amazing rich history of art and literature. Today many internationally well known Iraqi painters, writers, musicians and architects, practice their art outside of Iraq. During the very difficult decades the Iraqis endured, what sustain them was their art and their passion for the rich tradition of literature and poetry....the social fabric that bound Iraqis together.”
Barry Sanders’ projects occur increasingly at the intersection of art and activism, and include The Green Zone, which Project Censored named one of the top-ten censored stories of 2009, and “Over These Prison Walls,” which invites collaborations between artists and incarcerated youth. Sanders says, “There is no such thing as social justice; that is a sentence without an agent or actor; it is a sentiment without the sensible. ‘Social justice’ says, someone else will take care of seeing that everyone is treated fairly—that is why we have a judicial system; that is why we have laws and legislation. It is a phrase usually limited to people and not to animals. That is unfortunate. For most people, the arts have nothing to do with fairness and setting level the pans of justice. For us, the artist is the last bastion of reason and resolve; the artist lets us know, before anyone else, what is wrong and how it went wrong. Art can insist on agitation, on action: the image precedes the imagination. Following the death of reading, of knowledge, of journalism, of the public intellectual and the public forum, the artist perseverates. More so than at any other time, without the injunction of the artist, there is no move toward justice, there is no insistence on change, there is no attention paid to the entirety of living things"
Tim DuRoche, moderator— Tim, the director of programs for the World Affairs Council of Oregon, has worked for over 25 years as an artist, writer, curator and facilitator of community conversations. His public art installations, writing and performance have for many years been concerned with the public realm and how we share the common.
This exhibit which is currently displayed at the AB Gallery in the Adr + Degign Building on the Portland State University campus features 33 broadsides and prints and a single book from the more than 220 Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! collection brought to Portland this Winter and Spring.
Opening Reception: March 30th -- 3:00PM to 4:00PM in the PAC lobby -- Performing Arts Lobby, adjacent to the library. The Internationalization Initiative of PCC Sylvania is hosting the reception. Aseel Dyck, an Iraqi born and raised, retired librarian who specialized in the Middle East, will be the guest speaker. Dr. Baher Butti, the founder of the Iraqi Society of Oregon, will welcome everyone.
The Library Hours:
Monday – Thursday - 7:30 am - 10:00 pm
Friday - 7:30 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday - 8:30 am - 3:00 pm
Sunday - 8:30 am - 3:00 pm
Share authentic Iraqi food, listen to the music of Ronny Hermiz and meet new friends.
The facilities at Portland State University are provided through the efforts of the Iraqi Student Club and the Middle East Studies Center. The food has also been provided in part by the Iraqi Student Club of PSU and the Iraqi Society of Oregon.
Join us for an opening reception of the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! international traveling exhibition.
The program will include opening remarks from Baher Butti, founder of Iraqi Society of Oregon; keynote presentation from Yasmeen Hanoosh, Ph.D Assistant Professor of Arabic from Portland State University; artist’s perspective from Bettina Pauly, a San Francisco printer and book artist; and live entertainment from Ronny Hermiz. Light refreshments provided.
The reception took place in the Collins Gallery located on the 3rd floor of the Central Library. Here is Dr. Hanoosh's keynote address.
Al-Mutanabbi Street is Here Again: The Phoenix Rises
On a day like this in 2007, a car bomb detonated in Baghdad’s historic al-Mutanabbi Street, leaving a scene that had grown familiar in Baghdad since the last, but not least, U.S. occupation in 2003—It was a collage of chaotic images, grotesque in their brutality, harrowing in their repetition. Approximately thirty people died and one hundred were wounded. Old and new buildings lay in ruins, books turned to dust, and many landmarks such as the al-Maktaba al-cAsriyya (bookstore founded in 1908), and the famous intellectual hub, al-Shahbandar Café (founded in 1917), were destroyed. The sons and grandchildren of the café’s owner were murdered, as were many booksellers, readers, and passersby. The Street reopened the following year, to resume its bustling life, its booksellers’ relentless book commerce, and its consumers’ insatiable thirst for words.
In an anthology on al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, Antony Shadid reminds us that, unlike the U.S. soldiers who died during this unjustified occupation, the names of most Iraqi civilians, who died on this street or the tens of other streets that witnessed similar scenes of carnage, will never be published. These names will remain shrouded by the anonymity of the thick cloud of death this war-torn country has seen since the occupation.
Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, this international traveling exhibition and project for which we gather each year on March 5, was conceived to commemorate the heinous attack on al-Mutanabbi Street. It is a unique initiative of solidarity, a reaffirmation of the power of culture, of books, of art as antidote to barbaric violence and the mainstream acceptance of this violence. The idea of the coalition started in San Francisco but soon attracted hundreds of artists and poets from all over the world, attempting to keep our political memory awake and our actions, no matter how symbolic, aligned with our deepest sense of humanity. The venue is unique, as Iraqi novelist, poet, and NYU professor Sinan Antoon mentioned in his AUC address a few years ago, because it goes against the tendency toward political amnesia in the United States. This amnesia is particularly strong when it comes to war crimes perpetrated in Iraq since the early 1990s.
More than anything, al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is an urgent call for solidarity beyond national borders, imperialist triumphs, and corrupt political systems—today, it continues as testimony to the inevitable perseverance of what is most human in us, what is most gentle and fragile yet what comes to rescue us from our own barbarism time and again: the word; the word that bears the key to our lament about Iraq, that unhealable rift of justice that will not cease to pain when invoked; the word, which is at the same time that boundless celebration of the pact between humanity and culture, between the reader and the book, between history and the moment, and between love and the will to life.
We commemorate the destruction of al-Mutanabbi street and celebrate its revival today not because books and culture are more important than the anonymous Iraqi civilians who died there and elsewhere, but because of the Street’s iconic status as Baghdad’s human pulse and its custodian of knowledge and memory.
Al-Mutanabbi Street lies at the heart of old Baghdad, between al-Rasheed Street, Baghdad’s other major artery, and the Eastern bank of the Tigris River. It was founded in the tenth century when Baghdad evolved during the Abbasid period as the largest city in the known world. At the time it carried an Aramaic name, Darb Zakha (Zakha alley), and housed shops, outdoor stalls of scribes, booksellers, and stationary vendors as it does today. The street’s name change to Jāddat Ali Basha (Ali Basha’s Avenue) when the Ottomans occupied the area and housed the military headquarters there. By the time the country came under the rule of the British authorities in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the street bore the name of Souq al-Saray (al-Saray Market), which is still the name of a famous adjacent stationary market today. This expanding administrative district has continually been a dynamic multicultural, mutli-denominational oasis where political, religious, and class differences are situationally disabled or openly debated.
The current name was acquired in the 1930s when Faysal, the first king of Iraq, designated a committee of urban planners (Amānat Baghdad) to choose more culturally and historically laden names for the major streets in Iraqi. And so it were that in 1936 the old street acquired the famous Abbasid poet’s name, which it still bears today: al-Mutanabbi.
Not only does the founding of al-Mutanabbi street go back to the tenth century, but also the poet whose name it carries today. Abu al-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi is known to many in the Arab world as the greatest of the classical poets. No one knows exactly how the choice fell on al-Mutanabbi’s name but it is also not a farfetched choice when many Iraqi poets and intellectuals throughout the twentieth century have engaged intertextually with al-Mutanabbi’s oeuvre as they recognized themselves in his personal and political conflicts with the authorities. Also aptly, Al-Mutanabbi is the poet who had famously stated that the greatest companion in life is the book (wa khayru jalīs-in fi-l-zamāni kitabu). Al-Mutanabbi’s idealism and chauvinism have also made him the iconic focus of the modernist project and its literary output that dealt passionately with nationalism and political resistance.
The inescapable proverbial wisdom in al-Mutanabbi’s verse, and his unconventional insistence to fuse the standard public hyperbolic genre of panegyric with personal poetic voice put the poet’s unique verse on the lips of people from diverse social and educational backgrounds throughout the centuries. Indeed, al-Mutanabbi’s aphorisms are so ingrained in the Arab social fabric, most notably the Iraqi collective psyche, that you may encounter them as idioms in the daily language of people who do not realize their source.
In her reading of his oeuvre, al-Mutanabbi scholar Margaret Larkin suggests that the poet’s ego, or one might say the personal persona of his poems, often came to replace the patron as the focal point of the panegyric, thus undermining the authority of the genre itself. In a way, al-Mutanabbi Street has behaved like the poet across time. First it was created by the elite of the Abbsid dynasty and then maintained by Ottoman and British administrators. It was later decorated and restored by the Bacthis regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s to serve as part of the cultural façade of the Iraqi Capital. Yet it quickly fell into disrepair in the 1990s. Al-Mutanabbi Street has often undermined the reductive narratives of its rulers to serve instead as a microcosm of Baghdad’s plural society. During the sanctions years of the 1990s, when astronomical inflation rates made printed books virtually unaffordable, and while resisting censorship and frequent raids by Saddam Hussein’s secret agents, the “photocopy book” phenomenon flourished in al-Mutanabbi Street. Banned, critical books carrying false book covers of cookbooks and fashion magazines circulated fervently in the relentless black market of al-Mutanabbi Street.
Perhaps al-Mutanabbi Street witnessed its most surreal scene during that decade. While many middle-class families sold their books on the Friday market’s makeshift stalls in order to feed their children, new and old intellectuals owed the appearance of their dissident voices to the new phenomenon of the photocopy book. As the economic embargo fastened its grip around the country, the prices of printed books soared and they gradually disappeared from the market. By 1994, when inflation rates reached 448.5% according to World Bank data, the number of state-sponsored publications declined by approximately half and two-thirds, and 315 publishing venues were closed. A new class of “photocopy intellectuals” actively engaged in pirating canonical works of Arabic and international literature and cultural theory and circulating copies of these books in al-Mutanabbi Street for affordable prices. Meanwhile the local writers began self-publishing small, low-quality copies of their own books and photocopying them for local circulation. Owing their appearance to this informal and uncensored market at al-Mutanabbi Street, for the first time in almost a decade, novels and poems written inside Iraq attempted to portray the disrepair of Iraqi culture. After 2003, like Baghdad itself, the street attracted international attention but was largely left vulnerable and in disrepair by the occupation. An impetuous haven of diversity and free thinking, the street stood proud in the face of the imperialist encroachment of the US army in the heart of the historic commercial and administrative district.
Like the poet, life in the street went on despite the sectarian blood feuds that drenched Baghdad’s other streets, defiant with the trove treasures of timeless knowledge it harbored. Even as its people—booksellers, patrons, and passersby—were haplessly massacred in 2007, the street survived. Not only did it literally reemerged from its own ashes, but also it lives on today to retell the many tales of its glory and to serve a new youthful, more hopeful generation of Iraqi literati. It travels to us at this hopeful time of spring—as it does each year on March 5 through the exhibits of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here—bringing new words and art creations to remind us that word is memory and that memory is witness. An exile yet proud, self-possessed prodigy, like al-Mutanabbi the poet, banished and disowned by the many regimes that once claimed his talent, the Street rambles to us, asking that we simply witness.
 Antony Shadid, “The Bookseller’s Story, Ending Much Too Soon,” Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5th, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of the Booksellers”, Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi (eds.), PM Press, 2012, 3.
 Margaret Larkin, Al-Mutanabbi: The Poet of Sultans and Sufis, Oneworld Publications, 2008, 128-129.
 Erick Davis, Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq. UC Press, 2005, 240, 241.
 Muḥammad Ghāzi al-Akhras, Kharīf al-muthaqqaf fi-l-ʿIrāq (The Autumn of the Intellectual
in Iraq; Beirut: al-Tanwīr, 2011), 54-5. See also“Li-Nashr Acmālihim Muthaqqafū al-cIrāq Ibtakarū Thaqāfat al-Istinsākh,”(In Order to Publish their Works, Iraq’s Intellectuals Invented Photocopy Culture), Aljazeera, June 6, 2001 http://www.aljazeera.net/news/pages/aa6b7c72-993c-44a0-b404-b038f569192c
Co-Sponsored wit the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! Coalition
Come join us for an afternoon of spoken poetry, read in Arabic and in English, two of
the world’s most poetic languages. This reading is cosponsored with the Al Mutanabbi
Street Starts Here! Coalition, in conjunction with the Iraqi Society of Oregon.
The second of two readings will be Sunday, March 5, 2017 from 2-4 PM the Central
Multnomah County Library at 801 SW 10th, Portland, OR 97205. Featured English readers
will be Judith Arcana, Bill Denham, Andrea Hollander, Willa Schneberg, Joseph A. Soldati
and Bill Siverly. The event will be hosted by Dr. Bahar Butti and Bill Denham.
This exhibit will display from 48 artist books, 25 broadsides and 21 prints chosen from the over 220 brought to Portland this Winter and Spring. As such it is the anchor exhibit and will be accompanied by three Sunday afternoon conversations, panels and presentations, held in the US Bank Conference Room on the main floor of the library. (see the dates and descriptions below)
At the March 5th opening reception, Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh, Assistant Professor of Arabic in the Portland State University Department of World Languages and Literatures gave the keynote address. Her address is listed below under March 5th.
For more information about the Collins Gallery visit: https://multcolib.org/library-location/collins-gallery
Opening reception featuring Anne-Marie Oliver and Barry Sanders of The Oregon Institute for Creative Research/E4, with opening comments by Bill Denham, curator and Dr. Baher Butti, founder of the Iraqi Society of Oregon; conversation and light refreshments.
This exhibit is now available and displays around 50 broadsides, prints and artists books chosen from the more than 220 brought to Portland this Winter and Spring. The highly praised anthology, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5, 2007. Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of the Booksellers" will be available for purchase.
Join us for light food and refreshments, provide by the Iraqi Student Club of PSU who were responsible for securing this exhibit space, to celebrate the opening of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! exhibit. This is the first of three opening receptions.
The Art Building Gallery is located at 2000 SW 5th Avenue, 1st floor, on the campus of Portland State University.
This exhibit will move to the Portland Community College Library Gallery from March 28 - May 15, 2016.
This exhibit features 33 broadsides and prints and a single book from the more than 220 Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! collection brought to Portland this Winter and Spring. This exhibit space was reserved through the efforts of the Iraqi Student Club of PSU.
Gallery hours are from 11am - 6pm Monday through Friday. (11am - 8pm on First Thursday.)
The Art Building Lobby Gallery is located at 2000 SW 5th Avenue on the campus of Portland State University.
The exhibit will move to the library at Portland Community College, Sylvania Campus on March 28th.
For more information, visit: http://www.pdx.edu/art-design/ab-lobby-gallery
In response to the car bombing of Baghdad’s ancient booksellers’ street on March 5, 2007, an international exhibition is coming to Portland this winter and spring. It features over 220 artistic artifacts in four locations.
The primary exhibit is in The Collins Gallery in the Mulnomah Central Library, with auxiliary exhibits in the Museum of Contemporary Craft, the AB Gallery in the lobby of the Art + Design building on the Portland State University and in the library of the Portland Community College Sylvania Campus.
In the past nine years, nearly 650 individuals have responded creatively to this iconic attack on life and on freedom of expression. Through their creations, the artists, poets, writers and printmakers express solidarity with their Iraqi brothers and sisters and affirm the dominance of hope and light over darkness.
In addition, we have planned five events to accompany the exhibits.
See below for dates and locations.
This exhibition is partially funded by a grant from the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition and the Oregon Cultural Trust in partnership with Multnomah County Library, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, Littman and White Galleries of Portland State University (PSU), Middle East Studies Center of PSU, Iraqi Student Club of PSU, Iraqi Society of Oregon, Portland City Council Office of Neighborhood Involvement, World Affairs Council of Oregon, Milwaukie Poetry Series, Ledding Library, and the the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! Coalition.