Book Case

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Sanaz Mazinani undertook her series Book Case (2004-2007) as a response to the looting of archives and museums in Baghdad at the start of the war in Iraq. Artifacts and written records were disappearing, and most if not all were irreplaceable. In her own studio, Mazinani had been collecting books she had found on the street or otherwise abandoned. They were not rare books—certainly not the recorded history of a nation—but they had their own hazy histories nonetheless, as works of literature, as aesthetic objects, and as bearers of unknown provenance.

The tremendous loss of material culture in Iraq was much more urgent than the loss of any single copy of any single mass-produced publication, but still, to Mazinani, there was something both foreboding and enlightening about an abandoned book. She began creating images of the covers of the books she collected, making them larger than life-size in order to reveal new details and heighten their objective presence.

These book covers (nine are presented in this exhibition) are placeholders for the larger idea of loss: of historical record, of the printed word in the face of electronic publishing. But they are also beautiful images in their own right, worthy of consideration as singular objects, whether drifting through the hands of multiple owners and eventually to the street, or, as Mazinani presents them, floating serenely in empty black space.

In the image History of the Persian Empire, Amol, Iran from the series Iran Revisited (1999-2009), an anonymous book (its identity is suggested by the photograph’s title) lies open upon a counter in a fishmonger’s office. Mazinani has focused the camera on this book; the rest of the room—its safes, television, sales receipts, packing supplies—are blurred. The fishmonger himself is absent, yet, in the book’s clear and active presence, he lingers.

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