Disappearances Appearances Publishing

Fehras Publishing Practices, Villa Romana, Florence, 2017

The exhibition Disappearances. Appearances. Publishing concerned with the private library of the Arabic novelist Abd Al-Rahman Munif by rereading its holdings.

Abd Al-Rahman Munif is one of the well known modern authors of the Arab world. His life has been influenced by exile and constant migration between a number of Arab and European cities. He spent the last 17 years of his life in Damascus, where he died in 2004.

As a passionate reader and writer, Munif collected books and publications incessantly during his peregrinations, and at every one of his temporary residencies, he created a library. In Amman, Cairo, Damascus, and Beirut, in Belgrade, Baghdad, and Paris, and then back to Beirut and Damascus, Munif collected books and founded libraries, fated either to disappear, shrink, migrate, or be incorporated into the central library in Damascus. The library’s collection goes back to the 1940s and holds over 10,000 publications from diverse fields and published by numerous publishers, of which many no longer exist.

Immersion in this library and tracing its travels reveals it to be a mirror of political and cultural movements in the region of the East Mediterranean and North Africa. Thus, the library provides insights into the long history of epistemological production by publishers in the Arab world. It reflects the practice of publishing and its development during crucial political and social change. A re-reading of its holdings offers new observations but also stimulates questions concerning the fate of these publishers. Munif’s library thereby could be considered a reference for the migration of Arab intellectuals and the movement of knowledge, but it is simultaneously a space in which the disappearance and reappearance of publications take place.

The exhibition presented a re-reading of Munif’s library-archive through statistical interpretation and maps, which attempt to trace its movement, holdings, and secrets. This research is based on an inventory that catalogues and documents the approx. 10,000 publications in the library.

The sculpture presents a re-reading of the library archive of Abd Al-Rahman Munifs through various statistical interpretations and diagrams. These evaluations are based on a database, created by Fehras Publishing Practices and cataloging 9191 holdings of the private library of the author. These statistics and diagrams provide information about the history of publishing in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa region and attempt to establish a link between political events, ideologies, intellectuality, and migration through the experience of publishing. Despite their claim to provide facts, these statistics and diagrams are inherently contradictory and full of gaps, because they use the moment of the private collecting and archiving by an author like Munif as an approach to create a historical narrative.

dimensions: 322 x 95 cm
material: charcoal drawings on five compound panels of black MDF, 32, 90, 56, 56, 56 cm x 95 cm

The first prototype of the sculpture was developed and built by the artist collective Fehras Publishing Practices during a residency and a solo exhibition took place in 2017 in the Villa Romana in Florance. This installation is now part of the Sharjah Art Foundation’s collection.

The video presents 387 photographs of Abd Al-Rahman Munif’s private library, which were taken in the residence of the author in Damascus in May 2015. The photographs capture the different branches of the library distributed throughout the family home. They show the various archives of the library, from series to books, encyclopedias, magazines, dictionaries, and art catalogues. They give also a sense of the architectural and organizational structure of the library and offer the potential of information printed on the spine of the books. These Photographs were the departure point for Fehras Publishing Practices for a systematic indexing process of Munif’s library archive.