Last week I met with Negar Azimi and Babak Radboy, two of the librarians for the Museum as Hub: Bidoun Library Project, currently on view on the fifth floor of the New Museum. They are certainly not what comes to mind when I think of the word librarian… Negar and Babak are calm, thoughtful, and exceedingly well-versed in the history, artistic ouput, and current state of the Middle East. Negar is the Senior Editor atBidoun: Arts and Culture From the Middle East, and Babak is the Creative Director… in other words, I was in the best of hands.

I first started corresponding with Negar during the organization of the Generational: Younger Than Jesus exhibition in 2008, for which she recommended artists, including the Iranian painter Tala Madani. The Bidoun offices are on Christie Street, just around the corner from the New Museum; they are our neighbors, another reason why it is so exciting to have them collaborate for this Library Project.

Before launching into the organizing principles behind the space on the 5th floor, Negar, Babak and I talked a bit about Bidoun magazine, specifically it’s niche as only magazine about art and culture in the Middle East that is produced outside of that area. The “Middle East” is a Western term that only exists from the outside looking in, which is a distance that informs their perspective a great deal. They explained to me that the magazine focuses on art and stays away from addressing political issues, such as women’s rights, but this library has become a place where the Bidoun thinkers can also explore topics that they may choose not to encompass in the magazine itself.

The library is organized around four themes, each of which includes a catalogue suspended from the ceiling to provide a guide, of sorts, for each grouping. Negar and Babak have been very discerning in what they materials they chose to include, and the library feels both all-encompassing and subjective; that is, it offers a selection of useful resources and fascinating objects, many of which are testaments to the taboos, tropes, and stereotypes surrounding Western notions of the Middle East. It’s a curated group of both primary and secondary documents.

The library includes pulp fictions, state-produced children’s books, pamphlets, and guide books. Altogether, there are 700 printed materials on view from the past fifty years.

Negar and Babak, who have worked with Eungie Joo here at the New Museum, have done an amazing job of putting together a space that is visually interesting, useful, and poetic.

Celebrating the highly partial nature of the Library Project, an event will be held on Friday, September 10th, at 7 p.m. titled “Margins of Error” and it will feature historical reenactments, misreadings, poorly transferred film screenings, and a slideshow.

The Bidoun Library Project will  be on view until September 26th. More pictures below…

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Jarrett Gregory

// From our friends at the New Museum

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