Culture itself was attacked when a car bomb went off on Baghdad's Al-Mutanabbi Street on March 5, 2007. Thirty people were killed and 100 wounded, and the street that had been the heart of Baghdad's literary community for centuries was permanently damaged, with singular copies of literature and poetry destroyed. Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides, a traveling literary event of broadsides composed in response to the attack, comes to Santa Fe.
The call for printers to produce broadsides—single sheets of paper artistically presenting poetry, prose or imagery—went up immediately. After being displayed and read all across the United States and as far as in Holland, England and Germany, New Mexican poets and printers take their turn at reading.
New Mexico History Museum displays approximately 60 broadsides. At the event, eight readers read one or two broadsides, consisting both of their own works and of translated Iraqi poetry, apiece. Discussions between the readers and audience about their own printings and Al-Mutanabbi Street in general follow each reading.
Tom Leech, curator of the press at Palace of the Governors, organizer of the Santa Fe broadside display and one of many printers to contribute broadsides in response to the attack, says that as a printer he felt a responsibility to get involved.
"When there's wars going on, fighting in our name in other people's countries, you feel helpless. You feel like, 'What can I do about this?' As a printer, knowing that in a sense printers are first responders to things in the news, that's a call to action."
But Leech says the broadsides are not intended as explicit political or anti-war statements.
"I don't think American politics enter into it at all. That's not what it's about," Leech says. "I think most people who responded are coming at it from a place of helplessness. It's hard to point fingers in something as complex as the Iraq War. That's the problem we all have: Who's the good guy and who's the bad guy? I'd feel perfectly comfortable showing this work to conservatives. It's not about US out of Iraq. Some of the writers and printers probably had that agenda, and of course we're all outraged, but this is another way of approaching this."
Leech says the broadsides are more about the attack on culture and seeing things from the point of view of Iraqi civilians.
"This street had been a center for bookselling and for intellectuals and artists to gather in peace for hundreds of years. The attack on that is outrageous," Leech says. "And if I were in Iraq, not knowing if I was going to come home when I leave my house and feeling the extreme nervousness that has to permeate everything—I hope people who come to this event will empathize with that, even for a short while."
Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides
Friday, March 4
New Mexico History Museum
113 Lincoln Ave.