Richmond, VA: Monalisa Bagby, 2022. Hardcover. Number 2 of 4 copies signed and inscribed by the book artist, Monalisa Bagby. The half-mythical king Gilgamesh features in several Sumerian poems but is best known from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Historical evidence for Gilgamesh's existence is found in inscriptions crediting him with the building of the great walls of Uruk (modern-day Warka, Iraq). The quest for the meaning of life, explored by writers and philosophers from antiquity up to the present day, is first fully explored in the Gilgamesh epic as the hero-king leaves the comfort of his city following the death of his best friend, Enkidu, to find the mystical figure Utnapishtim and eternal life. Gilgamesh's fear of death is actually a fear of meaninglessness, and although he fails to win immortality, the quest itself gives his life meaning. The epic has served as the model for any similar tale that has been written since. Bagby was inspired by The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest piece of epic world literature, but in this inventive and creative version she tells the ancient story with modern twists. She writes at the end of her book that after visiting the epic tale she rewrote and adapted the story to fit her voice. Despite the modern references she made every effort to remain true to its spirit. She describes some her modern references: "for instance, the gods drink coffee, the Bull-of-Heaven is referenced as a vehicle and the celebration of Enkidu and Gilgamesh is described as a State Fair. The artwork also provides modern allusions. In the first pages Gilgamesh appears as a hulking predatory bird peering down at his people. Its purple color represents his royal stature. Later in the story, the goddess Ishtar is shown wearing tights with her hair braided. Gilgamesh’s grief and internal turmoil-his unraveling-is represented by a male figure with a floating head of confusion. It is not a full bodied existence anymore. Even one of his sandals is missing.
Each signature of the book includes quotes and parts of or complete poems to support the story. The famed Flood Story is handwritten in brown ink. Screen-printed at the bottom of the page are remembrances from individuals of their experience of the news of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Their stories are run together to create a stream-of-conscious of collective memories. The stories are printed in small typeface and in brown ink to suggest earth/ground/soil. To represent the impermanence of life the artwork is drawn in pencil. At the end of the story, the last paragraph is hand written in a field of blue representing peace and calm for Gilgamesh. The entire book is screen printed. Watercolor, collage, gold leaf, hand written sections and pencil drawings help carry the story. She chose a simple, muted design of the book cover is a reference to the earnestness of Gilgamesh's journey for meaning and contrasts the colorful rendering of the story. Bound in a Coptic binding in dark blue cloth with title in red on the cover. Printed in various fonts on Rives paper. In fine condition. Measures 8 x 8 inches. 23 pages plus colophon and final notes. ARTBK/011123. Fine.