Palestine Solidarity Shines at the New York Art Book Fair

At a high-traffic corner of the New York Art Book Fair (NYABF), I found myself blinking at an arrangement of potato-shaped stress balls bearing the logo of Berkeley’s Apogee Press.

“One of them is a real potato,” artist Asha Schechter teased, and for a moment I almost believed it.

This year’s edition of the go-to fair for all things riso-printed, folded, and otherwise pushing the boundaries of what a book can be is back in Manhattan’s gallery-dotted Chelsea neighborhood through this Sunday. It’s a delightfully overwhelming spectacle and impossible to absorb in one visit. As I wandered through the four floors of tables, I found myself drawn to newcomers and to the details — the small potatoes — that transformed the fair into an imaginative and openly political space that flies in the face of the commercial book sphere.

Adorned with a draped Palestinian flag and piles of artist books, Mexico City-based Cráter Invertido marked their first time at the fair by sharing the table with other art organizations to “practice collectivity,” co-founder Waysatta Fernández told me. She pointed out Les bian ario (2020) as a favorite, artist Andrea Fuego’s first volume, described in Spanish on the back cover as “sudden and replicable.”

Taped to the table’s fair-issued nametag was a QR code linking to a petition for Printed Matter, which runs the fair, to join the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Art collective 8-Ball Community, graphic design studio Secret Riso Club, and other NYABF participants shared the letter on social media earlier this week.

Across the fair, the QR codes furnished tables alongside $2 buttons, $15 zines, and $140 artist books, and were printed onto flyers hung in the stairwell and across the walls of the building. An infectious spirit suffused the upper floors especially: Visitors and publishers donned keffiyehs, Art Against Displacement distributed zine printouts of a Mahmoud Darwish poem, Tiny Splendor handed out risographs declaring “Palestine will be free,” and Pegacorn Press held a fundraiser for Gaza, all extending art’s political dimensions beyond signing a petition.

From words into actions, images into print, or one language into another, translation emerged as a throughline among several of the exhibitors I spoke with. On the fourth floor, an illustration on newsprint of a chained hand clutching a rose sat beside Beirut-based press Khabar Kheslan’s table, also bearing the QR code to the petition. The new publication, تحية للزيتون or Salute to the Olives (2024), documents the notebook writings of the late Palestinian poet and freedom fighter Omar al-Barghouthi, who spent decades imprisoned by the Israeli military. Like all of their materials, Editor-in-Chief Ben Rejali said, the text is presented in both the original Arabic and the translated English.

My eye also caught on a print depicting a pair of crab claws, à la Spongebob, reaching for a light switch. Rabbit Rabbit Press owner Jimmy Riordan revealed the zine’s plot to be even more wonderfully strange than I’d imagined: A “crabbi” (crab Rabbi) befriends a crab from New York, and an adventure-filled friendship ensues.

Another book on the Anchorage-based press’s table meditated on the everlasting task of washing the dishes, represented through illustrations and haikus. 

“At first it’s funny,” Riordan remarked, “but then I’m like, dishes really are life.”

Indian publishing house Reliable Copy, run by artists Nihaal Faizal and Sarasija Subramanian, was among this year’s international newcomers. The pair are visiting the city for the first time for a residency at Amant, and Printed Matter’s Volume Grant for POC-run publishers made it possible for them to travel for the fair.

Faizal and Subramanian first met at 1Shanthiroad, an arts residency led by historian and curator Suresh Jayaram above his mother’s home and kitchen in Bengaluru. 

“We wanted to commemorate the space where we met,” Faizal told me, flipping to a recipe for the delectable sweet pongal dish in a sun-yellow cookbook featuring dishes from over 70 residency participants, including Jayaram and his mother.

Also a first-time exhibitor at the fair, QRWHZGUB of Oakland brought intricately printed ephemera and impossibly tiny accordion-folded zines, rooted in gatherings he used to hold focused on making miniature zines about weighty subject matters as “entry points to dive deeper.”

“It’s kind of inspired by some sort of Polly Pocket type of mentality,” artist and QRWHZGUB founder Thad Higa said. “I was doing this at a tiny scale because of economical reasons and convenience. I didn’t have the materials. And I also love miniature things.”

At Higa’s table, there were copies of free online zines titled “Advocating for Palestine” and a poster clipped to the table asking passersby: “How many ways will I justify genocide today?” Like so many others, he displayed a QR code to the PACBI petition alongside his art, adding that he hopes Printed Matter and the entire world will sign on.

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