MEEM GALLERY EXHIBITS DIA AZZAWI’S
ELEGY TO MY TRAPPED CITY
Meem Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition dedicated to Dia Azzawi’s mural-sized, epic painting Elegy to My Trapped City (2011, acrylic on canvas, 240 x 800 cm) this autumn. The work was first exhibited by the gallery in November 2011, during Abu Dhabi Art. Comprised of haunting composite monochrome forms, this work represents the post-2003 destruction of Iraq. The painting will be exhibited with five preparatory drawings by the artist (acrylic and china ink on paper mounted on canvas, 120 x 150 cm). As one of the more politically inclined artists of his generation, Azzawi has since the 1970s created works which address the issue of human suffering as a result of political instability. Azzawi’s politically motivated works are often likened to Picasso’s seminal painting Guernica (1937). The display of Elegy follows the recent unveiling of the artist’s painting Sabra Shatila at the Tate Modern in London.
Elegy also pays homage to the Iraqi poet Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati’s (1926-1999) poem of the same title:
I saw in her sad eyes:
(Abd al-Wahab Al-Bayati, Love, Death & Exile. Translated from Arabic by Bassam K. Frangieh. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1991)
The shabbiness of the leaders, thieves, and pawns.
I saw in her eyes:
Glued like stamps
I saw in her eyes:
The orphan childhood
Wandering, searching in the garbage dumps,
For a bone,
For a moon dying
Upon the corpses of houses.
If this is all that remains of your charm,
Then how can we endure the pain of grief?
Dia Azzawi (b. 1939, Baghdad), is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of modern Arab art. Azzawi’s art covers a range of subjects executed in a variety of media—including painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, and book art. He lives and works in London but continues to derive inspiration from his homeland, Iraq.
Azzawi started his artistic career in 1964, after graduating from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and completing a degree in Archaeology from Baghdad University in 1962. His studies of ancient civilizations and Iraqi heritage had a profound impact on his art, and a key objective in the early formation of his artistic style was to link the visual culture of the past to the present.
In 1969, Azzawi formed the New Vision Group (al-Ru’yya al-Jadidah), uniting fellow artists ideologically and culturally as opposed to stylistically. The group’s manifesto, Towards a New Vision, highlighted an association between art and revolution, and sought to transcend the notion of a ‘local style’—coined by the Baghdad Modern Art Group—by broadening the parameters of local culture to include the entire Arab world. The group held their final exhibition in 1972.
Through his involvement with the New Vision Group, Azzawi found inspiration in contemporary subjects and issues, particularly the plight of Palestinians. His shift from themes of antiquity and legend to that of pain, death, and conflict altered his stylistic approach to painting significantly. These works lacked the vivid colour and ornamentation of earlier images and, instead, utilized bold outlines, attention to detail, and improvisational techniques.
Azzawi’s move to London, in 1976, led him to rediscover book art. Having researched the collection of Islamic manuscripts housed in the British Library, he affirms that the art of the book is the truest art form of the Arab world, even more so than painting, and encourages artists of the region to draw inspiration from, and reinterpret, this tradition.
With exhibitions of his work held worldwide, his art features in the collections of museums and institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad; Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar Foundation, Doha; Museum of Modern Art, Damascus; Museum of Modern Art, Tunis; Museum of Modern Art, Amman; Kinda Foundation, Saudi Arabia; Una Foundation, Casablanca; Arab Monetary Fund, Abu Dhabi; Development Fund, Kuwait; Jeddah International Airport; British Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Saudi Bank, London; United Bank of Kuwait, London; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; Colas Foundation, Paris; Harba Collection, Iraq and Italy; Gulbenkian Collection, Barcelona; Library of Congress, and the World Bank, Washington, DC.
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