Dongola Limited Editions – Scene Arabia Article – Cities Under Quarantine

Dongola Limited Editions – Scene Arabia Article – Cities Under Quarantine

How 57 Arab Artists came together in this Mailbox Project

Beirut to Berlin, Paris to Ramallah, Casablanca to Houston, 57 Arab artists across the world received the same package in the mail, with a single request: use it to interpret quarantine.

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Out of an unsure call with his business partner, Sarah Shalabi, Al Kadiri found his quarantine project, one he could transport and replicate across continents and timezones. In the safe but solitary settings of homes across the Middle East, Europe, and America, Dongola’s ‘Cities Under Quarantine: The Mailbox Project’ has brought together 57 Arab artists’ unique experiences and interpretations of this particular moment in history.

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It’s also, importantly for Al Kadiri, an attempt to revive the old practice of artist books. “While I was in confinement, I was reading an art book, and I saw a beautiful quote by John Baldessari, ‘It’s difficult to put a painting in a mailbox.’ And this was one of the reasons he practiced art in books: because he believed creating art that can be held in-hand is actually a very interesting approach to art. It was very valid and relative to what we’re witnessing at the moment. Since I’m a painter, I was taken by this quote. It’s true, I can’t send a painting in a mailbox— but I can send an artists’ book.” 

Since the publishing house largely focuses on limited edition publications, the concept behind the initiative was to go back to the idea of the original, unique artist’s book. Everything, from the paper to the binding, had to be entirely unique and make for a one-of-a-kind piece. According to Al Kadiri, this idea wasn’t new and had even been done by multiple Arab artists before, but never as a collaborative project encompassing multiple artists into one initiative.

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As for Al Kadiri, the point wasn’t to create art at all, but rather the solace he found in connecting with fellow artists and rekindling old friendships. “Because I was keeping in touch with all the artists and discussing all the directions they could take with the book, I suddenly stopped feeling the anxiety everyone else was feeling when I threw myself into this. I found a way to still feel connected and do something contrary to how everyone else is living, and strengthened that friendship between myself and my artist friends. I think that’s what this project is all about in the end; friendship. Human relationships. That’s what I felt the whole time. Thats why we called it an initiative, our aim behind it was never commercial.” 

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Dongola Limited Editions – Scene Arabia Article – Cities Under Quarantine