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dia al azzawi
a talisman for iraq

artist Dia Al Azzawi's practice is "documentation," explains Catherine David, deputy director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, "It isn't an interpretation or an illustration. He represents very difficult matters." If his sensitivity to human turmoil is not clear from the abstracted compositions of Al Azzawi's Modernist paintings, drawings, prints, books and sculptures, it is certainly felt through the vivid, confrontational hues and visual cacophony of his works. This is not a painter for the gentler spirit. Then again, these are not topics for the faint-hearted.

Al Azzawi is a prolific artist and 500 of his works are on view in the David-curated retrospective I am the cry, who will give voice to me? Dia Azzawi: A Retrospective (From 1963 until tomorrow), which opened last month in Doha at Gallery Al Riwaq and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. The two parts, which examine important moments in the history of Iraq and the Arab world and then the relationship between image and text in his work, respectively, serve as the best starting point for any consideration of his oeuvre. Looking at the Modernist technique visible in his early paintings in his native Baghdad (mid-60s to 70s), through to works created in his studio in London (where he has been based since the 1976), it is clear that despite a convincing formalist character, Al Azzawi's practice is deeply rooted in reactive sentiment.

Drawing from personal experience, collective memory and media representation, the exhibition is a double-impact walk-through of work by a man who is reacting to the traumas of his homeland as well as the injustices of events in neighbouring regions. "He is a witness of his time," declares Abdellah Karroum, director of Mathaf. Having completed a degree in archaeology in 1962 and studied ancient civilisations and Iraqi heritage, Al Azzawi's modus operandi is to link the culture of the past and present while defining a distinctly Modernist Iraqi style that is not limited by tradition. From 1968-76 he was the director of the Opening pages: A Wolf's Cry (Diaries of a Poet). 1968. Oil on canvas. 84 x 108 cm. This page: Human States/Untitled IX from the Halaat Insaniyya series. 1975. Gouache on paper. 43 x 33 cm. Iraqi Antiquities Department in Baghdad, and his Doha exhibitions hark back to that period. I am the cry, who will give voice to me? is "my manifesto against what happened to Iraq...

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