Posted on May 03, 2018

Mathaf: The Arab Museum of Modern Art, in partnership with the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, convened a reading panel with internationally acclaimed Iraqi artist Dia Al-Azzawi. Marking the one-year anniversary since the conclusion of the artist’s largest ever retrospective organised by Qatar Museums in 2016, the event featured a signing ceremony for a newly-published book on the artist’s work accompanied by a panel discussion.

In conversation with Doha Institute professors, al-Azzawi spoke about his new book “Dia Azzawi, a retrospective from 1963 until tomorrow,” which was published by Qatar Museums (QM). The authoritative book documents the full spectrum of the artist’s work and career. The monograph includes essays by leading experts in the field: Catherine David, in her role of Exhibition Curator; Nada Shabout, Professor of Art History and Director of Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative at the University of North Texas; May Muzzafar, poet and writer on the subject of Iraqi art since the early 1970s; and Zainab Bahrani, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology in the Department of Art History at Columbia University.

Abdellah Karroum, Director of Mathaf, Dr. Abdul Wahab Al-Afandi, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, Dr. Haidar Said, Researcher at the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, Dr. Ayman El-Desouki, Chairman of the Comparative Literature Programme and Dr. Ismail Nashef, President of the Sociology and Anthropology Programme, joined Al-Azzawi in discussion at the event.

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Commenting on the event, Abdellah Karroum, Director of Mathaf, said: The launch of Dia Al-Azzawi’s publication at the Doha Institute is a historical moment in the making of cultural institutions in Qatar. This is a major research project and collaboration between a museum and a university, expanding the role of our institutions in writing modern and contemporary art histories. Studying major artists like Dia Al-Azzawi through such in-depth projects is a crucial way to bring together art histories and society. This form of academic research builds on the existing collaboration with several scholars at Doha Institute who are involved in the research and writing for the Mathaf Encyclopaedia of Modern Art and the Arab World, an online, publicly accessible, peer-reviewed encyclopaedia”

Commenting on the event, Ismail Nashef, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the Doha Instiutute, said: “The “Dia Azzawi, a retrospective from 1963 until tomorrow,” exhibition and the book that followed, which was published by Qatar Museum, are both significant events, and constitute one of the most significant turns in the history of contemporary Arab art. The joint event signals the crucial role of institutions of higher education in advancing deeper knowledge of the history of modern Arab culture, of which the work and artistic achievements of Dia al-Azzawi constitute a major chapter. The collaboration between Qatar Museums and the Doha Institute promises the breakdown of institutional barriers and a radical new mode of engaging current Arab realities.”

Dia Al-Azzawi (born in Baghdad, 1939, lives and works in London) started his career as an artist in 1964, after graduating from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and completing a degree in archaeology from Baghdad University in 1962. In 1969, Al-Azzawi (with Rafa Nasiri, Mohammad Muhriddin, Ismail Fattah, Hachem al-Samarchi and Saleh al Jumaie) formed the New Vision group (al-Ru’yya al-Jadidah), uniting fellow artists ideologically and culturally as opposed to stylistically. Through his involvement with the New Vision group Al-Azzawi found inspiration in contemporary subjects and issues, particularly the plight of the Palestinians. From 1968 to 1976, Al-Azzawi was the director of the Iraqi Antiquities Department in Baghdad. He has lived in London since 1976, where he served as art advisor to the city’s Iraqi Cultural Centre, from 1977 to 1980. Al-Azzawi’s move to London led him to rediscover artist books (dafatir), an art form that he has encouraged other artists from Iraq and the region to explore.

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Dia Al-Azzawi has had a long association with QM, featuring in the opening exhibition of Mathaf and QM Al Riwaq in 2010. His work is included in the ongoing Mathaf Encyclopaedia of Modern Art and the Arab World, a pioneering online project developed by QM, Qatar Foundation and Mathaf, to comprehensively document the work of Arab artists of the 20th and 21st century. In 2016, QM hosted the largest ever retrospective of Al-Azzawi’s work titled ‘I am the cry, who will give voice to me? * Dia al-Azzawi: A Retrospective (from 1963 until tomorrow)’.

The artist has also created a number of iconic public artworks that appear in prominent locations across Doha for the local community and visitors to enjoy. A carousel designed by Al-Azzawi entitled Enchanted East and a Hanging Gardens sculpture opened in the Museum of Islamic Art Park, while QM also unveiled two installations at Hamad International Airport by the artist. The works, called Flying Man, joined the growing and outstanding collection of artworks by local and international artists at the airport. Mathaf houses the largest and most extensive permanent collection of modern and contemporary art in the region, mainly focusing on the region and its historical and cultural connection from North Africa to Asia, and from Turkey and Iran. Mathaf has more than 9,000 works in its care, dating from the 19th century to the present day.