Celebrating the Power of Free Expression: Al-Mutanabbi Street

I feel like books are a way that people can write freely. I’m Anne Evenhaugen, and I am the head of the American Art and Portrait Gallery library. Our exhibition is “Come Together: American Artists Respond to Al-Mutanabbi Street,” all related to the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project. That project started in 2007 after a tragic bombing in Baghdad, in Iraq, of Al-Mutanabbi Street, which was the central booksellers’ street. It was a place where people could go to buy books, buy paper, buy pens. Students would go there. And it was bombed, and people were killed or injured with the express goal of disrupting this free speech. A poet here in the US, in San Francisco, Beau Beausoleil, was particularly impacted by what happened, and he started to reach out to poets and artists to respond to this tragedy. Each one of these books represents the books that were destroyed in the bombing, and in the past several years they’ve been growing this collection, and now it’s over 600 works. And we’ve chosen works that are done by American artists who were either responding to the tragedy in 2007, or to what Al-Mutanabbi Street itself meant to the people.

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