Considered a key figure in the modern Iraqi art movement, Shakir Hassan Al Said was born in Samawa, a rural area of Iraq in 1925. He possessed a unique sense of observation, capturing what may seem like simple and ordinary events and presenting them with astonishing aptitude for description. “When I left school, I saw dozens of faces, brown faces, painful and laborious faces. How close they were to my heart! They squeezed me and I passed them over and over again. They suffered and I felt their pain. The peasants with their loose belts were pricked by thorns. They were so close to my heart! He wrote about his daily commute to school.
In 1948, Al Said graduated in social sciences from the Higher Institute of Teachers in Baghdad and after that he continued painting at the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts, where he studied with another eminent artist. Jewad Selim and with whom he co-founded Jama ‘and Baghdad lil Fann al-Hadith (The Bagdad Modern Art Group) in 1951. The aim of the movement was to achieve an artistic approach that is both modern and traditional with a specific approach called Istilham al-turath (Seeking inspiration in tradition). His work from the 1950s and 1960s are the best examples of the ideals promoted by the group in their quest for a distinctive local style, synthesizing both indigenous and international trends and expressing individuality and independence: “We wanted clarifying to Iraqi artists in general, and for ourselves as an artistic group in particular, this istilham al-turath, is the basic starting point, to achieve through modern styles, a cultural vision. Al-Said is often regarded as the theoretical dynamo of the movement; more vocal and prolific in his written production than Selim, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra comments that “no Iraqi artist has written about art in general, and on artists’ reflections on his own work in particular, as much as Shaker Hassan Al Said ”.
Al Said wrote the manifesto for the Baghdad Modern Art Group and read it at the group’s first exhibition in 1951. It is considered the first art manifesto to be published in Iraq. Researchers often regard this event as the birth of the Iraqi modern art movement. The Baghdad Modern Art Group, through its manifesto, its members and its numerous exhibitions, would come to signify a “golden age” in Iraqi modernism.
Al Said continued his studies at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris until 1959, and discovered modern Western art in the galleries and Sumerian art in the Louvre. After returning to Baghdad, Al Said taught at the Institute of Fine Arts. He developed an interest in Sufism and studied the work of Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, Sufism and Mansur Al-Hallaj and gradually abandoned figurative expressions and focused his compositions on Arabic calligraphy. He then developed a philosophy of art known as One Dimension; and formed the Al Bu’d al Wahad (or the One Dimension Group), ”which was deeply imbued with Al Said’s theories on the place of art in nationalism. The goals of the One Dimension Group were multidimensional and complex. The group which was an assemblage of all the artists that Al-Said knew worked with Arabic calligraphy, focusing on exploring the different values of Arabic writing of graphic, plastic, linguistic and symbolic works within modern Art. In practice, a single inner dimension was difficult to manifest as most works of art are produced on two-dimensional surfaces. One dimension refers to the realm between the visible world and that of God, where transcendence leads to self-disintegration and, as Al Said explained, “one dimension” refers to “eternity”.
According to Al Said, art is contemplation rather than creation. He explained the concept of “art as contemplation” in his Contemplative Manifesto, published in 1966. Contemplation, he writes, is the artist’s true vocation. Contemplative art accepts the world as a creation where humanity as a whole, artists included, can only express opinions.
Al Said actively researched the relationship between time and space; and for a visual language that would link Iraq’s deep artistic traditions with modern artistic methods and materials. An important aspect of this was the incorporation of callij (calligraphy) letters into modern works of art. The letter became part of Al Said’s transition from figurative to abstract art. Arabic calligraphy was loaded with intellectual and esoteric Sufi meaning, in that it was an explicit reference to a medieval theology where letters were seen as primordial signifiers and manipulators of the cosmos.
Al Said, has used his writings, lectures, and involvement in various art groups to shape the direction of the modern Iraqi art movement and bridge the gap between modernity and heritage. He has published several books on modern art in Iraq and numerous articles in Arab journals and newspapers. He is recognized as one of the fathers of modern art in Iraq.
His work is collected by major museums, such as Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, the Guggenheim in New York, and Sharjah Art Museum.
Artist and work: Vassily kandinsky
“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It requires that you know how to draw well, that you have an increased sensitivity for composition and colors, and that you are a true poet. The latter is essential ”.
One of the pioneers of modern abstract art, Wassily Kandinsky was born in 1866 in Moscow. He spent most of his childhood in Odessa, a prosperous cosmopolitan city populated by Western Europeans, Mediterraneans and various other ethnic groups. From a young age, Kandinsky displayed an extraordinary sensitivity to the stimuli of sounds, words and colors. It was his father who recognized his precious gift and encouraged him to take drawing lessons, as well as piano and cello lessons. Despite his early exposure to the arts, Kandinsky did not turn to painting until he was 30 years old.
It took a long time for Kandinsky to recognize his inner voice, and finally, in 1896, he gave up his teaching career to attend the Munich Art School. During his first two years in Munich he studied at the Anton Azbe Art School, and in 1900 he studied under Franz von Stuck at the Academy of Fine Arts. It was at the Azbe school that he first discovered the artistic avant-garde in Munich when he met Alexei Jawlensky. In 1901, along with three other young artists, Kandinsky co-founded “Phalanx”, an artists’ association opposed to the conservative views of traditional artistic institutions.
Kandinsky saw non-objective abstract art as the ideal visual mode for expressing the artist’s “inner necessity” and for conveying universal human emotions and ideas. He saw himself as a prophet whose mission was to share this ideal with the world for the betterment of society. And he viewed music as the most transcendent form of non-objective art – musicians could conjure up images in the minds of listeners simply with sounds. He strove to similarly produce pointless and spiritually rich paintings that hinted at sounds and emotions through a unity of sensation.
Kandinsky harnessed the evocative interrelationship between color and form to create an aesthetic experience that engages the sight, sound and emotions of the audience. He believed that total abstraction offered the possibility of deep and transcendent expression and that copying nature only interfered with this process. Heavily inspired to create art that communicates a universal sense of spirituality, he innovated a pictorial language that is only loosely linked to the outside world, but expressed volumes about the artist’s inner experience. His visual vocabulary developed in three phases, moving from his first figurative canvases and their divine symbolism to his lovely and lyrical compositions, to his last geometric and biomorphic color plans. Kandinsky’s art and ideas inspired many generations of artists, from his Bauhaus students to Abstract Expressionists after WWII.
Painting was above all deeply spiritual for Kandinsky. He sought to convey a deep spirituality and the depth of human emotion through a universal visual language of abstract shapes and colors that transcended cultural and physical boundaries.