This past February we were totally inspired by the collection of publishing projects, handmade books, zines, and other delightfully uncategorizable book works exhibited in “How to maneuver: Shape-shifting texts and other publishing tactics.” Curated and organized by “Kayfa ta,” a collaboration between Maha Maamoun and Ala Younis, the exhibition was accompanied by a multi-day symposium. I learned about so many inspiring publishing projects emanating mostly from “The Arab World.” Traditions ran deep; poetry was being brought forward in multiple forms.
Each project was notable, but I tuned in particularly to the work of Ahmad Makia, former editor of The State, and based in the UAE. Ahmad’s work was one of the first UAE-based publishing projects I encountered when I moved here in 2013. Through The State I learned of Deepak Unnikrishnan’s work and though I was new to the area, everything about the complexity of Dubai and the way culture is made and re-made here made sense; the discourse was a foil to the myopia of “this is a no place” which either had something to do with untrained eyes trying to understand the desert or people believing everything they read in The New Yorker. Ahmad Makia’s project, Print Labor, is “a web-based index of publications in the United Arab Emirates.” It makes visible the range of work that happens here; and it makes visible the work to be done. As with any place.
There were so many beautiful projects on display, and so many wonderful writers, publishers, and artist present, that I will not try to be comprehensive. But I will zero in, at the close of this post, on a work that I am reading and re-reading and will write a future post on: The Case for Bara: The Martyrs published by Barakunan press based in Beirut and Berlin. Part manifesto, part meditation, and an essay in the form of verse and authored by a mystical figure, this small green book has been a kind of guide to me this summer. More, coming soon . . .
-Jill Magi, August 20, 2020