Mette-Sofie Ambeck, “Al-Mutanabbi Street – a vicious circle”

The cover of the book – with the main title laser-engraved into the grey board.


A look inside the book mainly seeing the first three pages with buildings, people and tea & coffee pots and cups.


Again looking inside the book but towards the middle-end where the car bomb elements and the explosion becomes visible – looking back at what once were.


A close-up of the people reading and shopping for books, with the building in the foreground.


A close-up of the exploded vehicle and the burnt edge with the AK-47 assault rifles and car bomb elements in the foreground.


Artist: Mette-Sofie Ambeck (Thisted, Denmark)

Title: Al-Mutanabbi Street – a vicious circle (2013)

Medium/technique(s): Laser engraved covers onto grey boards. Inkjet printed text, hand-cut and burnt illustrations. Binding: pamphlet stitched. Papers: Fabriano Academia, white 200 gsm & 160 gsm.

Edition size: 10

Number of pages: 6

Dimensions, open: 20 x 40 x 0.6 cm

Dimensions, closed: 20 x 20 x 0.6 cm


Artist Statement:

Since I began experimenting with the book form in 1996 I have been interested in how to connect the pages by the use of precise cutting from one to the other for narrative purposes – the pages can interact with each other and the reader can interact with the book, too. I began with abstract notions or very simple story lines like “boy meets girl” before exploring greater complexity of theme and meaning. Today my trademark is hand-cut illustrated books, with layers of pages that gradually build images and stories.

In September 2010 I accepted the call to participate in the international project: ‘An Inventory of Al- Mutanabbi Street’ initiated by Beau Beausoleil (USA) and co-curated by Sarah Bodman (UK). The submitted book is a result of this.

The purpose of the project was to “reassemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the 5th of March 2007 car bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, Iraq – a street known for its booksellers – the literary and intellectual heart and soul for the community of Baghdad. On this day 30 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.

In my research I found that Baghdad was once founded and built in a circular way and its name at the time was: Madinat al-Salaam or ‘City of Peace’. This has a sad irony now – and, being a child of the early 1970’s, I only associated Baghdad with death and war – rather than peace – from watching so many television news reports.

From the outside the conflict feels never-ending – with no resolution in sight – a tragic vicious circle. This book represents that but is also a tribute to Al Mutanabbi Street – a street where thoughts and ideas were – and are – exchanged in book form.

Following a short written statement, there are 5 hand-cut pages in the book, each representing an element of the event.

The first page is a circle of Middle Eastern buildings referring to the street but also the ancient circular city of Baghdad, drawn freehand using reference images of buildings on Al-Mutanabbi St. and within Baghdad. The second page represents the people, both those lost on the day but also those who have lost a place within which they could find and share their ideas and thoughts. The 50 figures featured as cut-outs have been traced from photographs found on the Internet of people specifically recorded shopping and looking at books on the street, at some point before the bombing. On the street there were also traditional tea & coffee houses along with booksellers – the third page represents these by focusing on traditional tea and coffee pots and cups and the iconic hookah. The fourth page represents elements used to produce a car bomb (petrol containers and mortar bombs) and the familiar AK-47 assault rifle. On the fifth page we finally see the explosion itself, represented by a burnt circle within which the remains of a car is visible – the outline is based on a photograph of the vehicle which was damaged in the bombing and later turned into an art piece by Jeremy Deller in 2009.

I have chosen to hand-cut the pages as I did not want the whole piece to have the scorched edges associated with laser cutting, and I also wished to show very fine details. It also rightly emphasizes the final hand-burnt page. I used the laser sparingly for the engraved cover, as the process does still remain sadly appropriate for the subject matter.