The Visual Economy of "Precious Books": Publishing, Modern Art and the Design of Arabic Books

Zeina Maasri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shedding light on the postcolonial Arabic book, this article expands the literary and art historical fields of inquiry by bringing into play the translocal design and visual economy of modern art books. It is focused on the short-lived Silsilat al-Nafa'is (Precious Books series, 1967–70), published in Beirut by Dar an-Nahar and edited by modernist poet Yusuf al-Khal (1917–87). The series engaged prominent Arab artists and foregrounded the aesthetic dimension of the printed Arabic book as a “precious” art object. Situated historically at the threshold of contemporary globalization, this publishing endeavor formed a node connecting transnational modernist art and literary circuits with book publishing and was thus paradigmatic of new forms of visuality of the Arabic book. This materiality was enabled by a network of changes in the visual arts, printing technologies, and the political economy of transnational Arabic publishing in late 1960s Beirut. Relations between these three fields are analyzed through a multifaceted lens, focusing on the book as at once a product of intellectual and artistic practice, a commodity in a capitalist economy of publishing, and a translocal artifact of visual and print culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95–114
Number of pages20
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Visual Culture
  • book history
  • graphic design
  • arabic literature
  • Arab art
  • postcolonial
  • Transcultural theory
  • Globalization
  • modernism
  • World literature
  • Arabic book history
  • Transnational modernism
  • Graphic design
  • Postcolonial Arab art
  • Global sixties
  • Beirut and Lebanon history


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