The street booksellers in the Village, some of whom defiantly sell their vast and varied selection right in front of the Barnes and Noble on Sixth Avenue, represent New York at its bibliophilic best. The printed works they sell represent their own secondary economy: big ticket fashion magazines, anthologies and art books are purchased at full price by those who can afford them, then get passed down at a cut rate to NYU and New School students via street sellers, who have an enviable overhead and unenviable climate control. This evening, The Bidoun Library Project, a newly-formed archive of Middle Eastern publications compiled by Bidoun magazine in conjunction with The New Museum's Museum as Hub program, has invited some of the Village's street booksellers to bring their words eastward and set up shop in front of The New Museum. On Friday, September 10, the Bidoun Library Project will also feature an audio-video presentation at the museum. Here, we speak to Bidoun Senior Editor Negar Azimi about the project.
AIMEE WALLESTON: How was the Bidoun Library Project conceived? What was the ultimate goal?
NEGAR AZIMI: Initially, the library was born of the instinct to simply get books we happen to love and that are often hard to find in the Middle East out there circulating: rare artist monographs, avant-garde magazines, children's books, comic books, zines—you name it. The Bidoun Library had its first outing in Abu Dhabi of all places, but has since taken on a life of its own, adapting to every new location and situation. Before New York, it has traveled to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Beirut. Next, it will move on to Cairo.
WALLESTON: How does the Library interact with the print publication? Is their a conversation between the two?
AZIMI: In many ways, this version of the Library was born of an issue of the magazine we made called "Pulp," which began a long-term engagement with thinking about the ways in which print culture was implicated in representing the Middle East. We are concerned with both books as distinctly 20th Century phenomena, nearly defunct, and as something that may have multiple lives given the cause and context surrounding its birth. We're also looking at the book as an "object": something coveted, fetishized, instrumentalized and so on, interests us. Bidoun, itself as a magazine, is implicated in this tangle of concerns, from its own material-ness, to its attendant agendas and concerns.
WALLESTON: Are the publications you've collected mostly printed in the Middle East? Do you think our Western-centric ideologies and points of view could be broadened with the dissemination of more Middle Eastern texts?
AZIMI: The publications are a huge mix of things. Books about the Middle East produced in the US or what was the Soviet Union, books about Islam made by the converted, Kathy Acker's Algeria, propaganda texts of any and all stripe, cheap romances, Marx and Orwell in Arabic, even an Arabic Superman. Above all, the Library addresses the Middle East as an idea, the different ways it's been represented, bastardized, hijacked and more in print culture--both from within the Middle East itself and from without.
WALLESTON: For the event at The New Museum, how was it decided to invite the booksellers from the Village to participate?
AZIMI: Babak Radboy, our Creative Director, is a long-time collector of rare and strange eclectica from the print world and has long been interested in the particular "canons" the booksellers of New York sit upon. In this case, they hail from Senegal and sell a whole lot of vaguely defined "classics." This is, in a way, our attempt to engage the notion of the canon.
WALLESTON: Does this project interact with any of the New Museum's current shows?
AZIMI: In an uncanny way, it does collide with Brion Gysin's show. We have some Gysin literature, but we're also just generally interested in the counter-cultural encounter with the Middle East as an idea. You know, the Gysins, Ginsbergs and Burroughs of the world hung out in Tangier, and elsewhere.
Currently on view in the group show "Redux" at New York's Cristin Tierney Gallery (through Feb. 4) are two works by Joe Fig, both related to his 200