Like many of you, we were consumed by news of the August 4 explosion that ripped through Beirut, a city already in the midst of a political and economic crisis of mind-boggling proportions. The need for help remains urgent. We’ve asked friends and colleagues to send on the names of Lebanese organizations working across multiple sectors that could use donations of all sizes. While this list of both scrappy and long-established groups is by no means exhaustive, it offers a start. Please do consider engaging with one or more of these initiatives; even the littlest amount goes a long way.
Neïl Beloufa & Meriem Bennani in conversation with Myriam Ben Salah
Friday, May 29 at 11 AM PST, 2 PM EST, 8 PM CET ZOOM
Artist project… Confinement diary… Quarantine questionnaire… Playlist… Recipe? With museums, galleries, and sundry cultural centers shuttered amid our ongoing pandemic present, artists are increasingly being called upon to become providers of digital content cum entertainment. It’s hard not to be cynical about these appeals, as commissioning institutions scramble to justify their continued existence even as their physical spaces disappear. (Of course, Bidoun does not exempt itself from this legitimate querying of content production in the age of Corona.)
This Friday, May 29 @ 2 PM EST Bidoun presents a live conversation between the artists Neïl Beloufa and Meriem Bennani about the perks and pitfalls of centralized digital platforms for making and experiencing art. Beloufa has long been thinking about the manner in which art is made, circulated, seen. His current project, Screen Talk, is at once a surreal mini-series and a zigzag alternative distribution network. Could the internet, with all its concomitant liberties and limitations, provide a generative platform divorced from stifling vertical hierarchies and institutional agendas? Adapted from a film originally shot in 2014, Screen Talk the mini-series adopts a vaudevillian tone and posture in depicting a world turned topsy-turvy by a strange pandemic. Screen Talk is accessible via an interactive website whose design has been conceived as an artwork.
Launched in March and first circulated via Instagram, Bennani’s ongoing animated series 2 Lizards (made with Orian Barki) offers up a moody and hypnotic DIY portrait of how art might begin to make sense of this moment. Each episode follows the humanoid lizards, voiced by the artists, as they slowly absorb the reality—both surreal and true—of life in New York City under quarantine: a land of Zoom birthdays, distracted porn consumption, over-stressed medical heroes, errant gloves, an eerily deserted Times Square.
The artists will be joined in conversation with Myriam Ben Salah, newly appointed Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Renaissance Society in Chicago.
Nicolas Moufarrege in Time and Space
Saturday, February 15
“The International is a nomadic wanderer, on land and in mind.”
—Nicolas A. Moufarrege, “The Mutant International,” Arts Magazine, September 1983
Bidoun hosts a day devoted to the lost-found work of the Egyptian-born Lebanese artist Nicolas Moufarrege (1947-1985). A wildly prodigious visual artist, writer, and curator, Moufarrege made work that remains at once wry, sophisticated, and exuberant in its pursuit of the “idiosyncratic/universal.”
Contributors will speak to and about the cities in which Moufarrege lived and worked—distinct cosmopolitans enclaves, from 1950s Alexandria to 1960s Beirut, 1970s Paris to 1980s New York. These presentations will offer a lens through which to view Moufarrege’s emblematic engagements with painting and embroidery, graffiti and collage, Pop and the esoteric.
The afternoon begins with a talk by artist Nick Mauss, presented with Visual AIDS, and concludes with a conversation among friends and associates from the five-odd years Moufarrege spent at the epicenter of New York’s East Village art scene.
Tuesday, July 2 at 6:30 pm
Wednesday, July 3 at 6:30 pm
As part of the exhibition I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker at the ICA London, Bidoun and the ICA present a two-part program of screenings and discussions centered on the moving-image works of theatre director and filmmaker Reza Abdoh (1963–1995).
Working between Los Angeles and New York in the 1980s and early 90s, Abdoh was a contemporary of Kathy Acker at a time of metastasizing moral panic in the US. Both artists’ work share a particular fascination with taboo (sexual, psychological and societal) and abjection.
On July 2nd, a screening of Abdoh’s only completed feature film The Blind Owl is followed by a discussion between scholar Dominic Johnson and artist Ron Athey, moderated by Bidoun Senior Editor Michael C. Vazquez.
On July 3rd, a screening of short film and video works by Abdoh is followed by a discussion between scholars Elizabeth Wiet and Daniel Mufson, moderated by Bidoun Senior Editor Negar Azimi.
311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002
Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 7pm
Join Bidoun Contributing Editor Sophia Al-Maria and Senior Editor Michael C. Vazquez in reading and conversation on the occasion of the publication of Sad Sack (Book Works, 2019), a book of Al-Maria’s collected writing. Taking inspiration from Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1986 essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” in its nonlinear mode, Sad Sack’s essays encompass, among other things, the author’s fateful coining of the phenomenon known as “Gulf Futurism,” (zigzag) personal essays that offer up the seeds of her “premature” memoir, The Girl Who Fell From Earth, as well as Al-Maria’s experiments in fan-letter fiction – “Dear Tayeb” (Salih), “Dear Kurt” (Cobain), and “Dear Britney (Axis Mundi)” (Spears), among others. New and previously unpublished pieces sit with others originally commissioned by Artforum, Bidoun, e-flux journal, Creative Time Reports, and Serpentine Galleries.
Read Al-Maria’s writings in Bidounhere, as well as her curated collection from our archive, entitled “We are TMI.”
Sophia Al-Maria is an artist and writer living in London. She is contributing editor of Bidoun, and guest editor of The Happy Hypocrite – Fresh Hell, issue 8 (Book Works, 2015). Al-Maria’s memoir, The Girl Who Fell to Earth (Harper Perennial, 2012), was translated into Arabic and published by Bloomsbury Qatar in 2015. In 2016 Al-Maria presented Black Friday, her first US solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and was nominated for Film London’s Jarman Award. In 2018, Al-Maria exhibited ilysm at Project Native Informant, London, and was Whitechapel Gallery’s Writer in Residence — her exhibition BCE (Whitechapel Gallery, January – April 2019), draws on a year of performances and readings presented with Victoria Sin. Forthcoming exhibitions include Tate Britain, London (2019), and Julia Stoschek Collection, Dusseldorf (2020).
The Berlin Sessions: Reza Abdoh, Here and Now
10 April, 7pm
Venue: Café Oscar
Who was Reza Abdoh (1963-1995), and how does his “urgent regurgitant mission” speak to European performance today? Daniel Mufson, editor of the Reza Abdoh anthology, and Ehren Fordyce, former professor of directing and contemporary performance at Stanford University, will engage with Abdoh’s challenging, kinetic corpus in the context of contemporary European and American performance, three decades after Iranian-born theater director’s too-early death from AIDS-related causes. Leaning on documentation of Abdoh’s plays, Mufson and Fordyce will discuss the novel confluence of formal approaches and thematic concerns that make Abdoh’s theater distinctive—and distinctly relevant—today.
Twenty-five years after his final European tour, KW Berlin presents an exhibition devoted to the life and work of Reza Abdoh (1963-1995), the late Iranian-born theater director, writer, and artist, whose work spanned theater, film, and video. Abdoh’s earliest productions, mostly staged in Los Angeles, will be presented alongside the dense and intense yet brisk multimedia plays he created after learning he had HIV in the late 1980s, including Bogeyman, The Law of Remains, and Tight Right White.
On the evening of February 11, actors Tom Fitzpatrick, Tom Pearl, and Tony Torn will present readings from Abdoh’s oeuvre at the Volksbühne, followed by a discussion with fellow members of Abdoh’s dar a luz theater company, including Michael Casselli, Sandy Cleary, Brenden Doyle, Raul Enriquez, and Ken Roht, moderated by critic Daniel Mufson.
Reza Abdoh is curated by Negar Azimi, Tiffany Malakooti, and Babak Radboy of Bidoun with Krist Gruijthuijsen. The original iteration of the show was staged at MoMA PS1 this past summer. A comprehensive monograph edited by Azimi, Malakooti, and Michael C. Vazquez is forthcoming.
31 E Columbia Ave
November 29, 2018 - July 19, 2019
For the third and final installment of the Publishing as Practice series at Ulises, Bidoun staged a partial version of the infamous Bidoun Library. Founded in 2009, the Bidoun Library is a presentation of printed matter, carefully selected with zero regard for taste or excellence, that documents the innumerable ways that people have depicted and defined — that is, slandered, celebrated, obfuscated, hyperbolized, ventriloquized, photographed, surveyed, and/or exhumed — the vast, vexed, nefarious construct known as “the Middle East.”
In addition to publications, the library had on view a selection of trailers from the little known genre of Iranian-American “B Movies.” Produced mainly in Los Angeles in the years after the revolution, these resolutely un-canonical (and often un-watchable) low budget films feature mainly American casts with a few Iranian actors. They are the direct descendants of filmfarsi, the vernacular B Movie genre that dominated popular Iranian cinema before 1979, and which employed many of the same directors. Much, if not all, was lost in translation. Some of these films were exported to Asia; others have become cult hits among pulp connoisseurs. Seen together, they shape a schizophrenic picture of what these diasporic directors once imagined the formula for a successful Hollywood action film to be.
Reza Abdoh: Radical Visions
Screening series at The Museum of Modern Art
July 14–23, 2018
A polymath and self-described member of “a TV generation,” pioneering Iranian-American theater artist Reza Abdoh voraciously incorporated varied references to music videos, variety shows, film, dance, classical texts, BDSM, and more into his work, with equal parts poetry and rigor. Moving images played an essential role in the artist’s large-scale, interdisciplinary productions beginning in the mid-1980s. In his final working years he also turned to the cinematic form; his second feature remained unfinished at the time of his 1995 death from AIDS-related complications. In conjunction with the retrospective Reza Abdoh, currently on view at MoMA PS1, this series offers insight into the artist’s profound creative energy—films he directed and videos created collaboratively for productions—along with a recent documentary.
Across disciplines, Abdoh confronted themes of transgression, violence, and abjection to speak to social and political upheaval and marginalization in America and around the world—with a demanding yet transcendent effect on cast members, audiences, and future scholars and followers of his work. While his media output was largely envisioned in the context of theatrical mise en scène, experiencing Abdoh onscreen is vital to the rediscovery of this essential creator, whose urgent anger, clarity of vision, and unique voice resonate two decades on.
Organized by Sophie Cavoulacos, Assistant Curator, Department of Film; with Negar Azimi, Tiffany Malakooti, and Babak Radboy, Bidoun; and Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1, and Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art
Saturday, July 14, 6:00 The Blind Owl
Introduced by Tony Torn
Repeats Thursday, July 19
June 3–September 3, 2018
Opening June 3, 12-6pm
Readings by members of Reza’s company, dar a luz, at 5pm
22-25 Jackson Ave
Long Island City, NY
When the Iranian-American theater director Reza Abdoh died of AIDS-related complications in 1995 at the young age of 32, he left instructions that his work should never be performed again. In the ensuing decades, his hallucinatory theatre was hardly seen outside a few VHS tapes passed around experimental theatre circles. The exhibition Reza Abdoh: Bogeyman is the first large-scale exhibition devoted to Abdoh’s life and art.
At 5 p.m., to celebrate the opening of Reza Abdoh, four actors from the artist’s original company will reunite in the exhibition galleries to enact selections from Abdoh’s plays. Tom Fitzpatrick, Juliana Francis-Kelly, Jacqueline Gregg, and Tom Pearl will read from Bogeyman (1991), The Law of Remains (1992), Quotations from a Ruined City (1994), as well as from an unrealized treatment of the Faust legend, which Abdoh penned in 1986.
Co-organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art; and Negar Azimi, Tiffany Malakooti, and Babak Radboy for Bidoun.
We are pleased to announce Fractures, Nicky Nodjoumi’s first solo exhibition at The Third Line gallery in Dubai, curated by Media Farzin for Bidoun.
Nicky Nodjoumi’s paintings explore the emotional dynamics of contemporary politics. The brushwork is quick, loose, and expressive, although the compositions are carefully worked out well in advance. His protagonists are often men in suits — the uniform of authority — painted against spare backgrounds.
His recent work focuses on breaks, ruptures, and the layering of objects and bodies. He uses found photographs to create collages that repeat the same image with small shifts in scale. A selection of his working sketches and collages, drawn from his personal archive, is also on view. In the final work, bodies are crisscrossed by sometimes violent slicing and fractures — vivid traces of a social reality that has caught up with them.
Though he was only thirty-two at the time of his passing, the Iranian-American theater director Reza Abdoh’s (1963-95) mark on the world of theater was unmistakable. Relentlessly inventive, he pushed his actors — and audiences — to their limits amid ambitious, unusual, disorienting stage sets. Abdoh’s aesthetic language borrowed from fairy tales, BDSM, talk shows, raves, video art, and the history of avant-garde theater. This exhibition, the first large-scale retrospective of Abdoh’s work, will highlight the diverse video works that Abdoh produced for his performances and an installation based on his 1991 production Bogeyman. The exhibition also includes contextual materials reflecting the club scenes in both Los Angeles and New York, the culture wars of the Reagan era, and the AIDS crisis. Abdoh died of AIDS in 1995.
Co-organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art; and Negar Azimi, Tiffany Malakooti, and Babak Radboy for Bidoun. The exhibition is co-produced with the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, where it will be presented from February 8 to April 29, 2019 and organized in collaboration with Krist Gruijthuijsen, Director.
Reza Abdoh (1963-1995) was a renown Iranian-American director and playwright known for his large-scale, experimental theatre productions. When he died of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 32, he was already one of the most compelling figures in American theater. Plays like Bogeyman, Quotations from a Ruined City, and Tight White Right were known for their hallucinatory dreamscapes, ferocious energy, and sheer sensory overload. Abdoh’s aesthetic language borrowed from BDSM, raves, talk shows, and the history of avant-garde theater. Twenty years after his passing, his company members, collaborators, friends, and family have come together to create a filmic tribute to his theatrical genius.
Directed by Abdoh’s long-time friend and collaborator, filmmaker Adam Soch, this feature-length documentary incorporates rare live performance footage and interviews, providing unprecedented insights into Abdoh’s life and his idiosyncratic creative process. Join the filmmaker and original members of Abdoh’s company, Dar A Luz, for a discussion preceding the screening.
On the occasion of her centenary, an evening in honor of Jane Bowles
A puppet play by Jane Bowles, staged by Nick Mauss, starring Deborah Eisenberg and Lynne Tillman
The writer Jane Bowles passed away too early—in 1973 at the age of 56 after having spent two decades in the Moroccan port city of Tangier. At Tennessee Williams’ urging, The New York Times gave her a proper obituary, quoting John Ashbery: “Few surface literary reputations are as glamorous as the underground one she has enjoyed.” And yet despite her cultish following, she remains unknown to swathes of readers. The occasion of the Library of America’s publication of her collected works offers up a chance to look at her astonishing, antic work anew.
Organized by Bidoun with Negar Azimi, Pati Hertling, Tiffany Malakooti, and Lynne Tillman.
Copies of Jane Bowles: Collected Writings (Library of America, 2017), edited by Millicent Dillon, will be available in the bookshop.
Monday, January 23, 2017, 7pm
Artists Space Books & Talks
55 Walker Street, New York
This issue of Bidoun was assembled in Cairo between March and April of 2011. It remains, if nothing else, a true record of an uncertainty — so rare that even those who experienced it can hardly imagine it today.
We’re making this Arabic-language version available more than five years later. We had originally hoped to launch it in Egypt, but the moment wasn’t right. We’re still waiting.
هذا العدد من “بدون” تم تجميعه فى القاهرة خلال شهرى مارس وأبريل 2011. صدرت النسخة العربية من هذه المجلة التى تراها الآن فى 2015، أى بعدها بحوالى أربع سنوات. وهى تظل، على أقل تقدير، تسجيلا صادقا لحالة من عدم اليقين – حالة نادرة لدرجة أن من عايشوها حينئذ لا يمكنهم تخيلها الآن. واليوم، بعد مرور خمس سنوات من تلك الأحداث، تمكنّا من إصدار هذه النسخة العربية. وقد كنا نأمل أن نقوم بتدشين تلك النسخة فى مصر، ولكن الظروف لا تبدو مؤاتية. وما زلنا نعايش نفس أجواء الترقب والانتظار.
Founded in 2001 by a motley group of Tehran-based artists (including Bidoun contributing editor Sohrab Mohebbi), 127 quickly found itself at the vanguard of a progressive cultural moment in Iran. Their music melds Iranian melodies and jazz with an alternative sensibility, and features vocals in both Farsi and English. Part of the early 2000s Iranian rock revival, 127 were more irreverent, more playful, and more performative than their peers. Today, 127 members are dispersed between Tehran, New York, and Los Angeles and despite not having released or performed in years, they continue to yield a heavy influence in Iran and beyond. Join us at Le Poisson Rouge on May 6: Nadaareh nadaareh nadaareh!
Bidoun Contributing Editor Shumon Basar remembers his formative time with visionary architect Zaha Hadid, who sadly passed away on March 31st, 2016.
It’s beyond belief—I’m beyond grief. Zaha Hadid has died? Zaha can’t die. That’s not the blueprint we deserve.
The plan of her life was—surely—that she’d outlive her hero, Oscar Niemeyer, who drew till the age of 104. Or the shape-shifting Philip Johnson, one of her great supporters, who kept reincarnating himself until he was 98. Architects like them don’t retire, because there is no wall between their life and their work. There’s no after to a life of work. There’s just the world before you arrived and the world you want to see during your life. The rest is for eternity.
In an early interview with Alvin Boyarsky, Zaha said, “I almost believed there was such a thing as zero gravity. I can now believe that buildings can float.”
I always assumed she would defy the gravity of death, too. That those whorls of Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto, wrapped around her with mathematical precision, accented by her obsidian, weapon-like jewellery, were more proof—as if it were needed—that she wasn’t really like the rest of us. Even though she was really interested in the rest of us (no one gossiped quite like Zaha).
Her approach—brusque and brutally honest—made a mockery out of the lame, xenophobic, misogynistic essentialism that dogged her in the press. Her name was forever prefixed by the adjectives “Arab,” “Muslim,” and “woman” in a way none of her contemporaries would be prefixed by “Occidental,” “Christian,” and “man.” I think it an insult to her, and to womankind, to refer to Zaha as “the most important female architect in the world.” In this her spiritual predecessor was the Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi—whose obdurate work out-toughs the toughest of male Brutalists, but never rhetorically engages gender in its making.
Right now, I’m thinking about our daily life some 20 years ago when I started work at her London studio. It was a converted school; we entered through the “Boy’s Entrance.” I was a fresh graduate. As such, I knew my way around post-structuralism but not much else. I was giddy to be at The Office of Zaha Hadid. I was convinced I’d been accepted into the heart of a living avant-garde. Here, I’d find the spirit of Malevich and Suprematism defiantly alive at the tail end of the 20th century, having survived the cultural wasteland of post-modernism and the pediments of revivalism.
My memories of those few years are vivid: the Broadway-level drama of Zaha’s arrival at the office each afternoon (which made Meryl Streep’s strop in The Devil Wears Prada seem positively quaint). How I never got Zaha’s cappuccino right (I’d never foamed milk before, OK? They don’t teach you that at Oxbridge). And the second-hand London black cab I used to drive Zaha around in (“Let’s stop at Maroush on the way.”) She also bought me designer clothing (style charity?). Shopping with her was so much fun.
But mostly I remember her incredible private kindness towards me, often forged in London traffic, inside that black cab, her in the back, and me up front, while I wondered, with all the intensity of a 22 year old, how did I get here?
Zaha did not see your preternatural age. All she cared about was whether your ambition was related, in kinship, to hers. (It also helped if you’d forsake sleep to better further it. Sleep is Kryptonite to architects.)
This private generosity was famously complimented by a default desire to publicly humiliate or berate you. But once I understood this was merely a lesson to affection’s paradoxical expression, an exercise in eccentric closeness, the jibes no longer felt like tiny spears, but soft snowflakes. I’ve probably never been so simultaneously cursed and valued at the same time.
I realised, even then, that this was a close-up experience with someone Really Historically Important. I stand by that. It should be a no-brainer. More importantly, for me, I was part of a totally unique world, full of singular individuals orbiting this relentlessly driven centre of gravity who was also so fucking hilarious. (Who else picks Drake’s Hotline Bling as one of their Desert Island Discs?)
Zaha went from cult famous to famous famous. Pop stars in silly hats believed a selfie with her made them even cooler. Because I had long left, there’s a lot less I can say about this expanding period of the office, as it grew into the architectural equivalent of a Chris Nolan film: indie blockbuster/boutique corporate. The future, as rendered in science fiction cinema, was also forever changed by Zaha’s futurism. Critical assessments aside, in the 21st century, the world caught up with Zaha’s visions. I’m so glad she lived to feel that glow.
There’s a painting attributed to Zaha from 1983 (though in fact, most were collaborative efforts). It’s an aerial view of a warped earth—floating shards of colour, tectonic plates colliding—colonised by several of her unbuilt projects, flying apart or tied together by an unnameable force. This painting is called The World (89 Degrees).
That’s who she was. Who she always will be. The 89th degree.
THE COLLOQUIUM FOR UNPOPULAR CULTURE at NYU
and BIDOUN present:
LET’S BUILD A CINEMA!
With Tamer El Said & Khalid Abdalla (Cairo), Verena von Stackelberg & Marcin Malaszczak (Berlin), and Jake Perlin (NYC) in conversation with Negar Azimi
Friday 1 April 2016, 6:30pm721 Broadway [at Waverly Place], Room 674FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Refreshments will be served.
Who needs cinemas? They’re often accused of being anachronistic, of being out of synch with contemporary society’s increasingly privatised, on-demand and mobile viewing culture. Yet, around the world, there are a growing number of small, screening rooms that challenge digital fundamentalism, incubate experimental pedagogies, advance dialogues between creators and audiences, promote archival material that run counter to regional and national orthodoxies, think productively about their place in the cultural ecologies of gentrifying neigbourhoods, and labour towards creating an international network for challenged and challenging art in an era of downturn and permanent austerity.
LET’S BUILD A CINEMA! looks at the work of three new film spaces. Cimatheque, an alternative film centre in downtown Cairo that celebrates the diversity and power of film from the region and beyond, and that is dedicated not just to learning about cinema but to creating it. w o l f, located in a former brothel in Neukoln, Berlin and due to open in spring/ summer 2016, is a film space that includes resources for exhibitions, video installations and post-production facilities. Metrograph, recently opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, will project archive-quality 35mm and state-of-the-art digital video.
KHALID ABDALLA is an actor who has appeared in United 93, The Kite Runner and Jehane Noujaim’s Oscar-nominated The Square. A producer, filmmaker and alternative-media activist, he is a founding member of three collaborative ventures in Cairo: Cimatheque, Zero Production and Mosireen. He is also the lead actor in In The Last Days Of The City (2016).
TAMER EL SAID is a filmmaker living in Cairo. He co-founded Cimatheque and founded Zero Production in 2007 to establish an infrastructure for producing independent films in Egypt. His debut feature, In The Last Days Of The City, screened at MoMA’s New Directors/New Films series this month.
MARCIN MALASZCZAK co-founded production company Mengamuk Films, directed the award-winning Sieniawka (2013) and The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills (2015). He recently co-produced Tamer El Said’s In The Last Days Of The City which won the Caligari Prize following its premiere at the 66th Berlinale.
JAKE PERLIN is the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Metrograph in Manhattan and has previously programmed at BAMCinematek, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Alliance Francaise, Cinema Tropical, and the Human Rights Film festival in Zagreb. He is the Executive Director of Cinema Conservancy, a film production, preservation and consultation non-profit whose projects include the new film Peter And The Farm by Tony Stone.
VERENA VON STACKELBERG is founder and managing director of w o l f. She has been working in cinema exhibition, distribution and for international film festivals since 2003 for the likes of Curzon Cinemas an Artificial Eye in London, and Filmgalerie 451 and Berlinale/ Berlin International Film Festival.
A little magazine is like the start of a river. Sometimes you see a river alongside a mountain and it looks like nothing — it’s only trickling. Think of Holderlin’s poem about the Rhine. What I like most about that poem is the beginning — he starts in a little crevice, like a little hole, at the beginning of the Rhine. And that’s what little magazines are. That they rarely last is almost part of their nature. They are not meant to last. They are meant to follow one person’s impulse, to gather bits and pieces, works by poets, writers, and artists, which may become literature much later. In this way, small magazines are full of hope. We don’t know how long they will live, and they often disappear; but better to disappear than to become a bad magazine.
I started out with magazines of this sort both in Beirut and in the US. I was first published in America in a little magazine from New York called The Smith. It later disappeared. When a little magazine comes in the mail, it’s like receiving news of a birth. There is something charming, unpretentious, adventurous about them. As they get bigger, they start to have editorial policies and complications and the more they look for famous names. Well, how can you become famous if you don’t start somewhere? A little magazine is like a little gallery in an obscure, forgotten corner. What a pleasure to know a little place where you might discover one or two or three new things. Twenty years later, you discover that this or that person has become known — and usually less good, by the way.
In Beirut, I remember Antoine Boulad, who had started a little magazine called Mauvais Sang. I gave him some of my poems.
In Beirut, too, there was Shi’ir. Youssef Al Khal, Shi’ir’s editor, changed Arabic literature forever. Shi’ir was the most important literary event of the 1950s and 60s. Thanks to Shi’ir I was encouraged to return to Lebanon. I remember walking in Beirut and encountering what was one of the first galleries in the city. It was called Gallery One and it was run by Youssef and his wife Helen. We talked about poetry, because he was really a poet. He said to me, You write poetry, why don’t you send me some poems? I saw him a second time and he said, What are you doing in America? There’s a movement here! He had such enthusiasm, so I eventually sent him some poems from California, where I was living at the time, and before long I began to see him regularly. He was like a best friend to me.
Eventually, they closed the gallery and rented a basement across the street from his home in the Zarif neighborhood. Simone and I used to go there and very often there were young Lebanese emigres passing by during the summer. We would drink whiskey and wine and at midnight Youssef would say, Let’s see the paintings! He would open up the gallery and everyone would leave with a tableau under their arm.
In Morocco, there was a little magazine called Souffles run by Abdellatif Laabi. In July of 1966, I went to North Africa for the first time. I was in Rabat and the night before I had found a magazine in the street under the arcades. It was the fashion in Arab cities to have books spread on the sidewalk and people sitting on the floor looking at them. I looked through this magazine and was reminded of a man who had been a teacher in Beirut — my teacher — a French writer called Gabriel Bounoure. He had left Beirut in 1953 for Cairo, and a few years later, for Rabat. I didn’t see his name anywhere, but I read a few lines and thought, These must be his students. He had been like a guru for poetry, not at all a classic academic person. He had a way to give to poetry its full importance. Like Heidegger did. When I found that issue of Souffles I recognized in the poems the rarefied air, the intensity, the rigor, and the heated quality of the poems that Bounoure would have taught in his classes. Of course, I knew he had been banished from Lebanon by the French government, as he had openly criticized French policies in Algeria during the war.
Inside the magazine there was an address. It was published out of a house. So I looked it up and knocked on Laabi’s door at 8pm and a French woman came out. It was his wife’s mother, who told me that Abdellatif was at the hospital because his first child was about to be born, but she was expecting him home soon. I waited, and at 9pm or later he arrived. I said I am sorry, I am leaving tomorrow and I saw Souffles and I was sure you were one of Gabriel Bounoure’s students. He said Yes, of course I am.
During those years, we still believed in Arab unity, and people like Laabi wanted a United States of Arabia. I said to him that we won’t wait for the government: we will make our own Arab unity. I told him I was going to Beirut soon and I would talk about Souffles there. Later, he invited the Syrian poet Adonis to contribute to his magazine. I suppose I was the first one to make the connection between those two literary universes. Later, I sent him my poem on Palestine, “Jebu” — not the whole poem, but large excerpts. We remained great friends.
Souffles had a fantastic influence. A first generation of French Moroccans had a place to publish. It was a political magazine, too, and they took many risks. One of my favorite North African poets, Mostafa Nissaboury, published in Souffles, as did Tahar Ben Jalloun.
Years later, when Abdellatif was in prison, I wrote to him a lot. I stayed in touch with his wife and I remember her telling me that she had taken him the complete works of Engels to read. I thought, These books were so hard to read, so I sent him some art books to bring color to his jail cell. He would always say that our friendship had the same age as his first daughter.
-September 22, 2015, Paris
Click here to read Issandr El Amrani’s piece about Souffles in Bidoun 13
Bidoun Projects Presents: Hal Foster’s Breath Mints, Lawrence Weiner’s Gold Tooth, Cindy Sherman’s Eyeliner, Tala Madani’s Body Lotion, Yto Barrada’s Third Grade Report Card, Wade Guyton’s Nikes, Jeremy Deller’s iPod, Tony Shafrazi’s Pain Killers, Anicka Yi’s Brain, Julie Mehretu’s Golf Ball, Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Passport, Bjarne Melgaard’s Christmas Card From a Serial Killer, Laura Owens’ Bus Pass, Shirin Neshat’s Kohl, Darren Bader’s Junk Mail, an ongoing Poster Series by Taryn Simon, and much more.
Frieze New York
May 13-17, 2015
Signed limited edition posters of Taryn Simon’s portraits of Wade Guyton and Lawrence Weiner will be available Saturday and Sunday at the fair.
For a full inventory of auction material and to bid, see www.paddle8.com/auction/bidoun. Auction runs through Wednesday May 26 and all proceeds will support Bidoun’s not-for-profit activities.