Arab Art – Legacy and Modernism – Omran al-Kaissi
CONTEMPORARY ARAB ART: PROOF OF EXISTENCE (Extract)
It is not true
that artworks, which depict most the Arab place and its splendor,
affiliate the most to their Arab origins and carry the geographical
identity that proclaims the belonging to the world of origin; otherwise
the drawings of orientalists would have been the formal Arab art.
The issue of
belonging cannot be reduced to direct and superficial graphical
values, but can be firmly established as ideological constants which
spontaneously emanate from the content of the artwork. Here we go
to the creative interaction between the pillars of the triangle
composed place, time and event.
Place is the
space and context in which the movements of destiny and transformation
are performed. Such movements do not pass through the place, present
and future, without leaving an impact or planting imprints and signs.
Some allude to what took place, others turn toward the happening.
Time on the other hand takes the shape of positive mobile intentions
and not that of waiting or motionless negativism, while the event
is the code of interactions, existing and creatively produced, either
as intellectual or visual texts.
We have not
mentioned anything about the fittest and the best, for these are
pure relative terms which the critic can use either to highlight
this work or that, or to enrich them. We speak, it seems, about
a creative movement that actually exists and not a latent one, specially
that it comes up as an activity of several ones that are a must
to be, or that accompany the development and growth of modern society,
irrespective whether there exists intellectual interaction in this
society or not.
Arab art movement was created by virtue of the beginning of the
contemporary growth of the modern political, social and cultural
entities in the Arab World. A simile could be draw in here, once
spring comes, flowers should bloom. It is not the blooming of flowers
that causes spring. It is the necessary correlation between cause
The fact that
the existence, growth and development of visual culture has been
accompanied by crises and struggles within the Arab World itself,
it has become mandatory for such expressionist culture to cope with
all transformations taking place at the level of the society.
Had not the
protest movement and revolution in Egypt taken place during the
era of Mustafa Kamel, the pioneer Egyptian sculptor, Ahmad Mukhtar
would not have carved Egypt awakening. In the same vein, if the
14th July 1958 Revolution in Iraq did not take place, the late Iraqi
artist, Jawad Salim, 1920-1961, would not have sculpted his great
sculptural memorial The Statue of Liberty. The event is an active
motor of innovative sentiments, and the painting of artwork is totally
affiliated to those events.
The same is true with regards to all intellectual developments and
social and cultural reactions.
language in the Arab art, during its academic stages, was a direct
transcription of sentiments. The artist, according to Read, tried
to express his feelings more than to record his observations. However,
the huge succession and maybe the tragic succession of events in
the Arab World, in no more than sixty years, stretching between
the early forties and the end of the twentieth century have distorted
the monitoring and expressing process, making it unable to establish
a visual culture.
For this reason, I discussed amicably with my late friend, the great
Palestinian artist, Ismail Shammout, the limitations facing his
tragic painting that described the Palestinian catastrophe, the
uprising and the resistance. But his dream was to initiate a register
that might be transformed into a pictorial blog around people's
life, those who were extracted from their land and began fighting
with bare and with weapons to regain that land.
Also, when I
was engaged in studying the works of my other Palestinian late friend
Mustafa al-Hallaj, I realized that he, who possessed a symbolic
expressionist language that reached at times the limits of surrealist
rhythm, was seeking to set an equation concerning the future, the
future of the struggle and not the future of co-existence. He drew
an arrow pointing to an extremely important and crucial truth, that
indicating the transformation of the visual culture into an edifice,
taking the form of a bulwark, that amassed the creative capabilities.
It was to allow every artist to present, in accordance with his
plastic art or creative judgment, his case of confrontation.
Art in this
particular Arab era is not a decorative luxury. It is a colliding
consciousness that demolishes the existing negative aesthetic structure
to build instead a state of definite affiliation to the visual culture,
which produces a painting that debates the essence of affiliation
to the Arab era, more than it represents a case of coexistence with
the Arab place itself.
a question comes out from a set of interrogation marks. It concerns
the role that an Iraqi artist, for example, should seriously play
or practice, whether he is within his bloodied country or in the
school - the Baghdad School - created formal traditions and entrenched
methods which drew their perspectives from ancient schools of the
Iraqi art. Some of their prevailing subjects even discussed the
individual concerns, mainly based on the Iraqi's crisis, pertaining
to nationality and daily life, in addition to the city Baghdad,
and its unique traditional features.
The same question
repeats itself when we speak about the contemporary Palestinian
art. It has witnessed an extraordinary shift from the descriptive
to the foundational. This is because a new generation of Palestinian
artists, who may be living and drawing in the West Bank and Gaza
strip, or living inside the occupied territories, next to or along
the contemporary Israeli art, or being part of the Arab or world
diasporas, are presenting works that may be classified among the
latest modernism and contemporaneity innovations. They have succeeded
to get out of the nostalgia and descriptive circle to the square
of hard confrontation working toward establishing another Palestinian
visual culture. The simplest thus to be said about it is that it
does not speak about the central foe as a claimed virtual one, but
as a brutal, harsh and enforced presence that mandatorily calls
for the search of the most modern means to challenge it. The latest
Jerusalem Biennial gave very serious signals, via some functional
synthetic works which astonished the Western world and via distinguished
participations in Biennials or documentary exhibitions. The contemporary
Palestinian art has proven then that it is responsive to the present
times and a guardian of its standing.
There exist no negative descriptive attitudes. They are almost neglected
in this collision time. Events have succeeded in imposing their
influence on the plastic innovation, the form and the contents.
in the experimental works of the Egyptian artists of today clear
of the hegemony of the crisis of the Arab event on the art themes
and ways of producing them.
into the personal and general crisis in the contemporary Egyptian
art shall push us toward liberating fully or partially the demons
of its thoughts and of our queries. The same did the manifesto of
the Eighth Biennial held in 2001 in Cairo under the motto "Spirit
in the Soul… Spirit in the Body… and Spirit in God". The manifesto
began its first steps in January 2001, they add up to the first
threshold, the first point or cell within the third millennium journey
of the communication world. The manifesto has in itself the seventh
millennium journey of the Egyptian Nile Valley, since the signs
of Philas, the Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids, the obelisks,
the Triad Ammonite Deity, the unity of the creator in Akhnaton,
the owner of divine unity, and the Egyptian cemeteries built for
the next resurrection.
the manifesto of the seventh Egyptian millennium and the third world
millennium declared that:
The spirit is in the soul
The spirit is in the body
The spirit is in God
is body, and this body communicates with and meets the viewer through
the spirit and the soul, thus representing the link between the
body and the soul. The recipient, upon viewing or meeting the artwork
duplicates his self which is his body- the art body, thus collides
with or rejects what he receives. Thence, there is the soul- the
energy, which is the simulated junction between the art, which equates
the body, and the recipient the spirit. Every time the retina of
the eye pushes the image to the brain, it will be impossible to
erase it, wherever we go. This is therefore the soul in the body.
This is the
psychological and analytical vision of the contemporary Egyptian
art. Its functional interpretations have reached through the preparatory
condition among the young generation, its broadest scope. I lived
this experience when I was a member of the Arbitral Committee in
Alexandria Biennial of the Mediterranean Countries in the year 2000.
This fact made us grant awards to a great number of those new artists.
But could we
talk about other contemporary Arab arts independent of the crisis
of the individual's human existence which the artist passes through,
and independent of the crisis of the country in which he lives?
art movement in Egypt of the twenty- first century does not lean
on a history rich and solid of artistic products and organic ocular
culture. It has begun to invent its present, which is interactive
with the event, and which interprets the present that insists on
inventing the miracle of coexistence with the national, regional
and Arab variables.
The national variables, whether the speedy demographic growth, the
narrow cultural space separating the urban from the rural, the emergence
of religious tendencies fighting or colliding with the majority
of scientific or secular theses, have all exposed the visual culture
to a colliding reality through which it should deal with using all
its creative potentials.
We are therefore
in an art situation ready for confrontation, equipped with defensive
means of utmost need. This is the first time that a contemporary
Arab art finds itself in the middle of a difficult founding mission.
Therefore, it goes, most of the times, to the second circle of the
regional variables, not to get support but to interact voluntarily
with them, while it is in the midst of its internal challenges.
Artist Ahmed Nawar, for example, draws the portraits of Fayyoum's
personalities in order to enhance a status which we are obliged
to acknowledge, being that of the typical originality of the Egyptian.
But he turns also towards painting the Palestinian fields in a number
of his works, leaning toward the conceptual expressionist consciousness.
Along with all these works, he attaches a statement addressed to
the Arab citizen briefing about his past as a soldier on the Suez
Canal Front, and as a sniper in one of the advanced confrontation
units, not paying heed to his official post and oblivious of what
those who want the Egyptian artist a human without a past, may think.
of young Egyptian artists express their bold ideas through artistic
works that are synthetic, using concept methods. As such, they touch
on the democratic concern, the environment and the crisis of the
Egyptian, intrigued in his past and present, by two forces, equal
and opposite in direction.
innovative artistic case in Egypt may need a profound research and
field surveys, something which is due for such a number and caliber
of contemporary Egyptian artists.
ART FROM ITS FOUNDING TO THE DIASPORA
We shall discuss
the history of Iraqi creativity, taking into consideration the importance
of the geographic place. Iraq has acted, over the passing of ages,
as a garden of human innovation in art and architecture. Art, we
should admit, is a spatial culture by excellence. Its development
is the clearest sign of the city's development and progress. Iraq
history, of no less than six thousand years B.C. - as ruins of Tell
es Sawwan and Arido confirm- mandates reading the innovative sculptural
vestiges, in view of the ancient Iraqi search for a divine pretext,
to have sculpture and architecture of high spiritual value.
As such god
Enki, god of water and knowledge, assigned creative duties only
to his children; the divinity of writing to his grandson Nabu; building
the city and transforming it into the most beautiful place in the
world to his son Marduk. Thus was Babylon proud of its high tower.
The other sons were also assigned with other intellectual missions.
was a cause and a substitute of sculpture in the land between the
Two Rivers. Consequently, many archeologists and discoverers of
ruins in Iraqi soil layers, considered that organic unity between
architecture and sculpture originated from the strong divinity concepts
in the land between the Two Rivers, i.e. the concept surging from
the triangular: the city, the king and the individual.
Iraqi artist was vowed, for his creativity, to gods represented
in the king. For this reason and around the third millennium B.C.
it is found in the city of Uruk, named also al-Warka, the homeland
of goddess Inanna the Lady of Sumerian Sky, the first names of sculptors
and architects, by order of the temple's custodians themselves.
That is, because the artist is the one who expresses the innovative
civilizational desire of a god. In fact, he is the one who shall
start developing the first cuneiform script on the round seals owned
by the Temple, confirming in so doing his recording mission.
A great archaeologist
like the late Taha Baqir, 1912-1987, shall make a triangle based
on the principle of arches in roofing, the abstractionism in pointing
to letters and the expressionism in sculpture, in order to form
a bewildering civilizational picture, based on the effort of the
first Iraqi artist.
Iraqi sculpture art as affirmed by the famous German archaeologist
Julius Jordan, who discovered al-Warka ruins in 1912 and became
director of the Iraqi Archeological Departments in 1931, is the
basis for the human sculptural art in its condensed expressionist
style. It began as dummies of unified specifications and ended as
a homogeneous Parliavalian force, some sculpted on hard marble and
others on calcareous stones. They are preserved since the start
of the twentieth century at the Staatliche Museum in Berlin.
But that Iraqi
artist, who was ahead of his time, would also realize that sculpture
of the mass needs a comprehensive movement that provides it with
time dimension and transforms it into a force that resembles the
recipient and influences him. Consequently, cubism formations with
large eyes indicate that the Rafidain human being comprehends the
outside in its totality.
The old Iraqi
art, during the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian ages,
was visual text depicting a historical event, seeking through which
to achieve perpetuity and change, as expressed by the murals of
the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal the Second in Nimrud, located
at present in the British Museum. However, the tendency of the ancient
Iraqi artist toward abstractionism was expressed clearly in the
second century B.C. through the murals painted during the reign
of Commander Shamsi Ilo. Here, we receive the esoteric tendencies
in the Iraqi art which were transmitted surprisingly to the two
schools of Wasit and Baghdad in the Islamic Art.
al-Mansur, the second Abbasid caliphate, shall build in 154 H (762)
A.D.), the round al-Zawra City, Baghdad, near an old monastery,
next to a garden called Baghdan, located at the eastern bank of
the Tigris River. He surrounded his palace with the palaces of his
followers which were protected by the dwellings of ordinary people,
without omitting the wall and the four gates.
It was a time
of struggle between more than one party, where the powerful would
get hold of the outstrips of the Abbasid State. When Haroun al-Rashid
came to power, he decided to put an end to that by transforming
the state into an Arab fabric. He realized the need to introduce
artistic and architectural creation, then centered in Kufa or Wasit,
where Yahya al-Wasiti lived and painted the most marvelous works
ever seen. Painter Ghazi was a painter and an illustrious calligrapher.
He taught the two children of Haroun al-Rashid, al-Ameen and al-Ma'mun.
He was a very clever and rare colorist. He grouped a great number
of creative painters around him, thus the arts of copying, drawing
and composition prospered. The book in Baghdad became the most beautiful
possession in the hands of the cultured. The era of eye enticement
painters, calligraphers and scribes, prevailed over the world of
culture and knowledge during the Abbasid era. Their total number
exceeded three thousands painters and calligraphers; some calligraphers
even occupied ministerial positions like Ibn Muqlah and high positions
like Ibn al-Bawwab.
the first catastrophe was when the Moguls invaded Iraq and demolished
Baghdad and Samarra, reducing to ashes Iraq's libraries transforming
waters of Tigris River's into a blue ink.
The fact that
the Iraqi innovative legacy vanished in a catastrophic manner, the
Iraqis were psychologically affected, thus they became enclosed
and introvert. Sufi movements and Sufi schools of thought spread
with an amazing exaggeration in showing poverty and asceticism.
The Baghdadi Sufi, Dalaf al- Shibli, 247-334H (861-946) A.D.), described
his fellow Sufis by being a group of people whom God swept dunghills
with their bodies. If you throw their bodies to the dogs they would
not approach them. The idea of self-extinction means that there
is no existence at all except for the reality of truth, which is
the greatest creator, in which the smaller creator melts.
He will perish,
then perish, then perish, then the extinction becomes the essence
In between the
fall of the Abbasid rule and the extinction of the Iraqi innovative
legacy on one side, and the advent of the modern times on the other,
despite the Ottoman occupation of Iraq, several kingdoms, leaders
and occupations vanished, but Iraq remained anointed with the perfume
of its creativity. Iraqi art practiced by some Iraqi military officers
who studied in Istanbul began to filter back to Iraq. At the outset
of the twentieth century, people started to acquaint themselves
with the paintings of Abdul Qadir al-Rassam, 1882-1952, Hajj Salim,
father of the founder artist Jawad Salim, 1920-1961, also got acquainted
with a large number of calligraphers. Art was a secret vein that
fed the hearts of Iraqi talented artists. The period of commotion
and transformations extending between the World Wars I and II provided
an open space for reviewing the condition of the Iraqi art.
that a group of talented Iraqi artists like Jawad Salim, Faeq Hassan,
Khaled Rahhal, 1926-1987, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, Shakir Hassan al-Said,
1929-2004, Hafiz al-Droubi, 1914-1991 and others, should be in Iraq
at the same time of, the indulgence of Europe in the World War,
the fall of Paris and the threatening of London. Quite many of them
were obliged to stop their art studies abroad and return home.
of those artists were influenced by great names in the painting
world. However, a group of Polish artists, who fled their country
and settled in Iraq before immigrating to America, drew the attention
of Iraqi artists to the beauty of their capital, Baghdad, and to
the Iraqi innovative legacy.
Thus an Iraqi
awareness emerged and developed, pushing artists to get affiliated
to the spirit of Baghdad city and the need to acquire the consolidated
and creative commitment.
founding generation of the Baghdad School, or the group of pioneers
or enlightened, adopted for themselves a creative path based on:
1. Paying attention
to the distinguishing characteristics of the Iraqi art across the
ages. Thus, the Iraqi painting scoops from many sources, different
but complementary, relies on the force of the Sumerian and Assyrian
expressionism, takes from the color lyricism of the Islamic arts,
from the unity and romanticism of architecture in Baghdad as well
as other ancient Iraqi towns.
2. The academic
consolidation of the generation wishing to learn art in view that
the academic force is a mandatory composing nerve.
the imagination and the freedom of differentiation in art rhythms
among the Iraqi artists.
and connecting with the outside world and getting acquainted with
the latest technologies.
has established his characterized Iraqi art edifice in such a way
that the Iraqi expressionism has become one sign of combating all
estrangement, if not the symbol of the fetched genuiness. This has
been clearly expressed by the great Iraqi artist Jawad Salim in
his large Parliavalian obelisk which still remains in the region
of the Eastern Gate in Baghdad, the Freedom Monument.
trends and names would come to the limelight in Iraq and would interact
prior to Iraq's occupation. Iraqi art schools at that time can be
sorted as follows:
A. The Expressionist
School in its symbolist orientations, represented by Jawad Salim,
Nizar Salim, Khaled al-Jader, Mohammed Aref, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat,
Faeq Hassan and a great number of their students.
B. The Impressionist
School, represented by Hafiz al-Droubi, Faraj Abbo and Saadi al-Kaabi,
knowing that the latter reverted finally to his own style, and a
large number of other artists.
C. The Abstractionist
School, represented by a group of modernist artists like Ismail
Fatah al-Turk, 1934-2004, and tens of young artists who graduated
after the seventies of the twentieth century.
D. The Literalism
School, founded by the late Shakir Hassan al-Said and led by Qutaiba
Shaikh Nouri, Jamil Hammoudi, Madiha Omar and others.
E. The symbolic
trend, which focuses on the heritage symbols and the memory of the
trends, known through the works of Mehdi Moutashar, Fahmi al-Kaissi,
Rafeh al-Nassiri and others.
which prevailed prior to the occupation, confirm an astounding variation
in the Iraqi art studios. The policy of the Modern Art Museum of
Iraq was based on the acquisition of all sorts of experimental and
the extended diversity of the modern Iraqi art collection, pointing
to the wide spirit of experimental research of the Iraqi artist.
One of the most
prominent features of Iraqi art is represented by the Iraqi Museum
which comprises the treasures of the civilizations that ruled Iraq.
However they are no more than 20 % of all vestiges discovered in
Iraq, since the beginning of the archaeological missions to Iraq
in 1875. The largest part of Iraqi antiquities exists in the museums
of Berlin, Switzerland, Paris and London as well as at the University
of Chicago and other universities across the United States of America.
However, the Iraqi Archaeological Museum is one of the most prestigious
museums in the world, scientifically partitioned, with an unequalled
archaeological library. Needless to say that it was exposed to the
dirtiest looting operation in history. The whole vestiges of the
Akkadian history were transported to one state in the region, while
that state destroyed most of what goes the Babylonian history in
revenge of Babylonians who captured the kingdom of Jerusalem.
The second feature
is represented by the Iraqi Modern Art Museum, which had its paintings
stolen and sold for derisive prices in the Arab and world capitals,
while the looters, unable to transport the millions of books and
manuscripts of the Iraqi National Library, burned them in piles.
Moreover, the acquisitions of the Islamic Museum in A'adhamiyah
were also looted, knowing that the museum is the richest among all
museums in the Islamic world.
Thus, ends the
era of the Iraqi art which affirms the identity. Master artists
were persecuted, children of some of them were abducted and released
against financial and art ransoms, that was the case with the great
artist Mohammed Ghani. The acquisitions of the Art Academy in Baghdad
were demolished and teachers as well as students fled. Substitutes
appeared, being forged paintings drawn by amateurs claiming that
they were the works of the masters, next to trite paintings of superficial
Thus, art migrated.
Iraqi artworks started to appear from outside Iraq pointing to Iraq
open wounds. Iraqi artists at present, paint using the language
of the current times whether abstractionists, expressionists, surrealists
of affiliated to the Concept Art group. The most prominent
modern Iraqi art blocs are as follows:
. The two Groups
of Damascus and Amman. They have the expressionist rhythm leaning
toward abstractionism in common, and their paintings maintain the
Iraqi flavor, the palm trees, its swamps and the old Baghdadi streets.
. The Group
of the Netherlands. A group of great artists like Ali Talib, Hassan
Abboud and others. They lean toward abstractionism, but they played
in addition a vital in the development of Cobra School created in
the Netherlands and thus gained the admiration of their Dutch colleagues.
. The Group
of London. Their main concern is a painting of cultural text or
architectural construction, with a space movement, maybe influenced
by the famous architect Zaha Hadid who is an Iraqi citizen from
. The Group
of the United States. The painting is an angry one, almost similar
to a poster in the case of the Dearborn Group or to the eastern
embroidery spirit of the Los Angeles Group. But some were skillful
in airbrush painting or color spraying.
we ought to stop at, concerning the Iraqi art, is the intellectual,
cultural and historical development of the expressionist trend.
We need to see the link between the formation of the modern political
entity of Iraq and the accelerating progress of the overall cultural
situation. The general expressionist trend of the Iraqi painting
has been actually formed by the cohesive presence of the plastic
But from the
womb of the resistance poem was born the position painting. The
objective equivalent to the poem The Martyr's Day, written by al-Jawahiri
after the assassination of his brother Jaafar al-Jawahiri in the
upraising of al-Jumhuriyya Bridge in 1948, was The Leap painted
by artist Shakir Hassan al- Said, though at a later date of the
context of the poem.
Political Prisoner painted by artist Kadhim Haidar was more of a
response to a political position which the Iraqi found no better
way to address except through selected situations or symbols determined
by their reactive sensual appearance and made visible by the power
of linear design pointing to the composing skill of this artist.
it was from the quick reactive responses to the daily events, that
began to be formed, the core of the artistic Iraqi community of
the first Baghdad School.
It is a school
with no clear characteristic or proximity between the rhythms of
the artists affiliated to it. It is more of an instinct call that
has matured to prove first and foremost the existence of a parallel
Most of the
several writings about this advanced organizational achievement
of the Iraqi art movement indicate that Jawad Salim was the pole,
around whom the first organizational equation of the Iraqi art pivoted.
This assembly was not preoccupied with any radicalist revolutionary
or even reformist goals or objectives. It was a civil move to declare
the existence of a parallel artistic movement that aims at mixing
the West-inspired art, in view that most artists are graduates of
Western colleges, and the art legacy being preserved by the artist's
cohabitation with the exceptional city, Baghdad.
Some link between
the admiration of Baghdad by some Polish artists, who lived temporarily
in Iraq, and their admiration for inherited Iraqi texts, whether
the ones of One Thousand and One Nights, or the texts and illustrations
of the Maqamat of al-Hariri made by al-Wasiti.
But in all this,
we should not overlook what the establishment of The Fine Arts Institute
in Baghdad had of a pivotal role, and what the archaeological awareness
had of an imprint, especially when the excavations were made and
the personality of the National Museum of Iraq was crystallized.
Number of artists was asked to help restore some of the works extracted
from the consecutive historical layers of the civilization for the
land between the Two Rivers (Mesopotamia).
The first expressionist
generation was not negative toward the struggles and transformations
in the rovalist Iraqi. On the contrary, the period between 1950
and 1958 witnessed several round tables that gathered painters,
poets and critics. Even some of those meetings touched upon the
general political concern, especially in 1956, during the tripartite
attack on Egypt and the turmoil which engulfed the Iraqi streets
and brought to the surface the latent will for change.
We found in
that epoch an intelligent exploitation of the most fertile conditions
in the popular Iraqi mind. The paintings showing Iraqi tired faces,
construction laborers, women working in molding mud bricks and the
fishermen of Tigris River; the paintings by artists Jawad Salim,
Faeq Hassan, Hafiz al-Droubi and Ismail al-Sheikhly, were all a
glorification of the genuine Iraqi worker whose misery was indicting
evidence against the political ruling at that time.
The alleys of
Baghdad were the source of misery and revolt. The impressionist
Iraqi artist Hafiz al-Droubi painted the ancient alleys of Baghdad.
He painted al- Sadria region which posed an extraordinary aesthetic
formation, extracted its components from the zinc roofs that covered
some bifurcations and shops of wheat and grains, where the stacking
of goods had its inherited aesthetic feature. The artist was eager
to express this internal upheaval lying under the apparent quietude
of Baghdad's districts which were the refuge for laborers, toilers
and teenagers carrying questions and pieces of chalk to draw graffiti
exploitation of the popular symbol and the inherited symbol began
to grow along with the growth and development of the political events
and the increase in the severity of clashes between the people and
the ruling regime.
The Iraqi painter
was not then distant from the national event. Following the 1956
uprising, the massacre of al-Kut city, in particular the region
of Souk al-Shouyoukh, perpetrated by feudal lords, and following
the ascending police oppression, the Arab symbol appeared in the
Iraqi expressionist painting.
In the exhibition
organized at the Teachers Training College in the first month of
1957, there were paintings around Port Said, the Algerian Revolution
and Palestine. Many teachers and talented students interpreted the
political awareness in a direct and unambiguous expressionist language.
national feeling related to the national crisis began to unfold.
The Baghdad School or the Pioneers Group or any other grouping,
which leaned on the direct aesthetic aspects of the popular tradition,
were not detained any longer from recording the reactive personal
states of the daily stances of the artist. They began to transform
the Iraqi expressionist painting to a position.
Art, as an intuitive
force, breaks through unconsciousness and collides with it where,
by way of a daily synchronization between the artist and the event,
a web of organic relations is produced, rising to what we call the
committing feature in art.
The Iraqi expressionist
trend of the pioneering generation may have been more committed
than the subsequent generations. The paintings of Jawad Salim, Faeq
Hassan, Ismail al-Sheikhly, Shakir Hassan al-Said, Jamil Hammoudi,
Hafiz al-Droubi and Khaled al-Jader may have formed a model of adherence
to the daily expressionist language, where the smell of sweat, toil
and tiredness were part of the themes of basic works, same was the
language of deep relation between good people. The spirit of Baghdad,
represented by the actual adhesion of houses and the close ties
in its streets, lanes and markets, was automatically reflected on
the artwork surface produced by a group of artists, who were fond
of the essence of human relations connecting the city and the people.
The period between
1940 - 1958 was an important founding period in the life of the
Iraqi art school. The appearance of art groupings, following the
Baghdad School, like the Pioneers Grouping, al-Zawiya Group and
others, enriched the Iraqi plastic art movement at the level of
cultural interpretation of plastic artwork. Even some debates addressed
the question of linkage between the painting and the homeland, from
the perspective of the artist's capability to link himself with
the national problem, a problem that was based automatically on
the formula of the clash between the authority and forces opposing
The most dramatic
event in Iraq's contemporary history was the surge of the 14th July
Revolution in 1958, excluding of course the fall of Baghdad. Because
that revolution, which laid the foundation of the Iraqi republican
regime, opened wide cultural and creative horizons, to the extent
that the educated person was much ahead the political authority
and offered extended and crucial explanations for the early stages
of the Iraqi revolution.
of Jawad Salim at the Eastern Gate in Baghdad, which is a frieze
comprising: a group of embossed sculptures arranged from right to
left the way an Arabic text is read, according to the explanation
of the prominent artist Jawad Salim, the comprehensive image of
Iraq, starting from the movement of a horse surrounded by people,
referring to the destruction by the masses of the statue of the
British General Maude who occupied Baghdad, and King Faisal the
First and the horses of both, passing through the stages of struggle,
their challenge and martyrdom, and moving to the demolition of the
prison's gate which rests in the middle of the monument. The left
side relates parts from Iraq's history, up to the end of the sculpture
where the Goddess of Fertility stands, a woman holding spikes in
one hand and bearing a baby in her womb. This sculpture summarizes
to a great deal the important phase of the Iraqi expressionism of
struggling attitudes. This was the last of the said period especially
that the great artist Jawad Salim died before his huge sculpture
was terminated. Following that, and the political struggle between
July 14, 1958 and February 8, 1963, when the regime of Abdul Karim
Qassem was toppled, there came the rule of totalitarian parties
where Iraq experienced a situation of huge moral and psychological
stage, a group of young artists met under the emblem of the modernizers
and succeeded in presenting an exhibition of their works in Gulbenkian
Gallery in Baghdad. This was the exhibition that exploded all academic
trends and past Iraqi expressionism.
It was an abstraction
exhibition par excellence. It loaded the painting with the enigmas
of the ambiguous intellectual presence and made the title rest distanced
from the work. The painting having The Neigh An Iron Horse as a
title and the subject matter a burnt sponge stuck on the white space
of the work, pointed to a distance of doubt that made the authorities
realize that the era of artistic and innovative rebellion had emerged.
The defeat of
June 1967 shook the Iraqi in the innermost of his conscience. Then
the painting of anger appeared. Suad al-Attar painted the most wonderful
of her angry paintings. Ismail Fatah al-Turk, Rafeh al-Nassiri,
Rakan Dabdoub, Taleb Makki, Saleh al-Jumai, Ali Talib and Faeq Hassan
executed works which indicated the degree of their overwhelming
anger. That exploded with Amer Alobeidi in the form of heritage
horses symbolizing the roots, knowing that the masters at that time,
Faeq Hassan, Shakir Hassan al-Said, Khaled al-Jader, Jamil Hammoudi,
Qutaiba al-Shaikh Nouri, Nuri al-Rawi and others, used their paintings
to express their inherent feelings and interpretations in reaction
to that overwhelming defeat. But what was founded at the hands of
a generation of students during the sixties of the twentieth century
and still studied at the Art Academy or Art Institute in Baghdad,
was huge and crucial. It was reflected even in the behavior of some
artists. Otherwise how could we explain the suicide of Iraqi painter
Ibrahim Zair in Beirut, who joined at that time the Palestinian
revolution trying to flee from the shame of his defeats. Also how
could we explain the voluntary isolation of artist Saleh al-Jumai?
found secret windows for itself to follow on the changes occurring
in the world of visual culture. Maybe the literalism movement, founded
by the late artist Shakir Hassan al-Said, could be considered one
of the most important samples of those windows. It was presented
along with a Sufi background, and supported by a unique language
which transformed the painting into a psychological state that clings
to the tails of time and space in Iraq in where awareness became
one of the phenomena of true tragedy.
al-Wasiti, the Iraqi who bequeathed innovation
He is Yahya
Ben Mahmoud Ben Yahya Ben Abil Hassan Koreha al-Wasiti. Koreha,
being part of the name, led orientalist Pluche to believe that this
painter was Armenian in his origins.
is aware of the important presence and innovation of the city of
Wasit, originally a military outpost between the north and the south
of Iraq in the seventh century of the Hejira or the thirteenth century
A.D shall know quite well that al-Wasiti, being an artisan painter,
was not distanced from the prevailing trend in that city, known
for its industrial innovations at that time.
In his childhood, he focused his full attention to do something
of meaning, learn it and excel in it at the hands of a skillful
tutor. However records do not provide us with the name of al-Wasiti's
skillful tutor. In Wasit itself, a painting school of certain creative
standards was established. It had a special interpretation of the
meaning of the visual culture presence and what it implied to the
recipient of joy and awe at the same time.
has contributed something new, which shall certainly appear through
a square of:
First, the rise
of the expressionist feeling, being reflected on the features of
the central element in the picture. In other words, the object shall
materialize through the reactively pictured statement of the center
personality of the object. Speaking of Maqamat of al-Hariri in particular,
being the only vestiges remaining to unfold the personality of this
historical painter, the hero of the text, Abu Zayd al-Saruj around
whom the story turned, was the central element and the lens through
which the general condition of the whole event was reflected. That
psychological expressionist method was considered a qualitative
step in the Iraqi paintings during the middle Ages.
Second the creation
of a civilization blend over a hybrid and new graphic flat surface.
Al-Wasiti was very well acquainted with the Persian graphic art.
He studied the flat surface formation of the human form. He knew
the intellectual meaning of the distribution of elements, in their
crisscrossing horizontal and perpendicular form, still with no depth.
He got acquainted as well with oriental Christian art, being quite
aware of the fiducially impacts on the composition, that was based
on the state of display of purity and implied joy of the central
personality of the Christian image which derived its reality from
the Eastern Christian thought.
those two trends with the style that prevailed in Wasit then, the
plain painting- painting with the eye of a bird - and the focus
on the integrated text of the object of the image.
Here we deduce
one of two facts: first, the room for a genius interpretation by
an educated printer, though no sources about the cultural and educational
background of Yahya al-Wasiti. The second, the existence of a current,
to which al-Wasiti was affiliated, aiming to renew the artistic
situation and moving it from the mechanics of workmanship to the
ingenuity of painting and coloring.
Third, the geographic,
social and temporal context of the event to be painted. Such an
important element was transferred to the graphic flat surface in
its totality, to transform it into a visual statement, through which
one can identify the social conditions and the spatial decoration,
the social level, as well as the temporal for the place, which cannot
be read clearly independently of the temporal context that affects
it in full.
regards to the relation existing between the two texts, the written
and the painted. If we compare al-Wasiti's style to that of other
artists, in dealing with a written text to be painted or to paint
its outstanding events, it is to be found that the painted text
of al-Wasiti is not subordinated and isolated from the written text.
The Maqamat of al-Hariri, which number more than fifty, all relate
to the personality of Abu Zayd al-Saruj to the extent that some
see in him a living normal person while others see a virtual human
in the text which he decided to have it illustrated, on the central
event. He chose the junctures of relevance from the text, making
it easy for the reader of the anecdotes to complement his rhetorical
textual knowledge with the pictorial text, with all the needed sequencing
It is to be
noted here that a Persian artist, Rida Abbas, in drawing the personality
of Sheikh Sana'an within the book Bird's Language, no similar features
are found in the several drawings. We find instead a written note
pointing to Sheikh Sana'an to guide us to him. This is not needed
for a painter of the standard of al-Wasiti who makes the personality
of Abu Zayd al-Saruj appear with unified features, clear and familiar.
It succeeds in crystallizing the visual sensitivity of the text.
actualized four pillars are crowned by an important feature that
characterizes al-Wasiti's painting, the demonstrative function of
the color. It is realized in this context the conscious capability
of an artist who is proud of his artistically presence and who deals
with color as an inspiration, of important symbolism. The golden
color, which is the mark of splendor and glory, girdles the clothes
worn by people of high rank, while embroidery, embellished with
writings and invocations, appears clearly on the furniture. However
the white color, which is the symbol of piety, remains within the
space decorated by dark colors, in order to increase its visibility
The color for
al-Wasiti is not just a decorative means. It is an element of revelation
and a tool to focus on the persons of the event and the situational
meaning of the whole location. It appears that all that exists of
chromatic relations is not separated from the revealing statement
of the textual picture. With this chromatic meaning we come across
a genius painter who elevates the pictorial text way above the mentality
of the written text, to the extent that we almost come to believe
sometimes that the written text is an explanatory annex to the pictorial
the contemporaries of al-Wasiti, who practiced the illustration
of written texts, could use the chromatic style for decorative purposes
only. They succeeded as such in creating pictorial decorative spaces.
So it would not be strange to see some contemporary artists to al-Wasiti
who also painted the anecdotes, such as Ahmad Ben Jalba al-Mousalli,
died in 777H (1375 A.D.) or Abi al-Fadl Ben Abi Ishaq, who dated
his paintings by the year 734H (1334 A.D.), or to see paintings
with the signature of Ghazi Ben Abdul Rahman al-Dimashqi, born in
630 H (1232 A.D.), who excelled in spatial decoration embellished
with Kufi calligraphy. Al-Wasiti taught us, over and above, to be
affiliated with our artistic innovation and to record it, as part
of our history. He used not to forget to mention his full name,
being the artist who executed the artwork, as well as the date and
he was a clever technician in the preparation and mixing of colors.
Maybe what Ibrahim Juma'a wrote, in the sixth volume of al-Thakafa
Magazine during the sixties of the twentieth century, about the
method of preparing the black color by way of burning caphor leaves
and mixing them with mustard oil, then using the mix to draw, with
the help of a fine reed, the facial features, needs further technical
We need to clarify,
by way of our experience, that many ancient Iraqi calligraphers
used to produce black ink, through burning wool and mixing its ashes
with some drops of a cow gallbladder, then adding egg albumen together
with soot powder, extracted from the bottom of stoves.
The reason of
this technique is that mustard oil used to be inexistent in the
spice markets of Baghdad, Basra or Wasit, while other colors were
extracted from their plant or rock sources.
of the tender walnut fruit may produce, when not ripe yet, a brown
color. If boiled with, a small quantity of water, some Arabic gum
and the green clover may produce, if pounded and crushed well, a
juice transformable into a tempora when a small quantity of honey
is added to it.
who lived in the middle Ages and excelled in his creation, could
be considered a high level and skilled in industrial and artisanal
work, in as much as encyclopedically cultured. As such, he was not
concerned in drawing only, but also in the whole process of his
art world, starting with colors and ending with the tools used.
was a true peer for the text writer. For that reason he was his
partner in the final manuscript, which was not just an intellectual
written text to be read but a visual text as well that provided
the most profound approach to the written text. Consequently, the
revealing of the important role of al-Wasiti might serve as a prelude
to understand the founding meanings of the first Iraqi school in
the drawing art.
Have we not
said that Iraq is a country where the past is more vivid than the
present and that the strength of the roots would make us more optimistic
that the garden would bloom once again.
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