Universes in Universe

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Key figures

In this section, we see forays into partial or complete abstraction, and in some works, an emphasis on the revival and reinterpretation of ancient symbols and local heritage that was common for artists working on developing distinct national visual languages in the twentieth century. The selection features some of the most pivotal figures in the development of modern art in the region, like Jewad Selim who, along with Shakir Hassan Al Said, founded the Baghdad Group for Modern Art in 1951, with the latter also establishing the One Dimension Group in 1971.

On the central wall are three works by another prominent Iraqi artist – Dia Azzawi. On the far right, is his 1968 painting A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet. It is a haunting figural composition featuring a patchwork of electric colours set against a darkened background. This work is based on an unpublished poem by the Communist poet Muzaffar Al Nawab that narrates the story of a mother who lost her son during the aftermath of the Ba’ath coup. The male figure, lying on the ground with his hands raised upwards to the sky, cowed over by an abstracted wild animal and a female figure in the foreground whose large, hollow black eyes suggest the fear and sorrow of loss. Detached from direct historical reference, the painting underscores a timeless representation of injustice and violence.

Text by Sarah Rogers, Karim Sultan, Mandy Merzaban, and Suheyla Takesh

© Photo: Courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Photography by Capital D Studio

A Century in Flux - photos

Highlights from the Barjeel Art Foundation. Sharjah Art Museum, UAE, 12 May 2018 - 31 May 2023. Curators: Salwa Mikdadi, Mandy Merzaban, Karim Sultan.

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