'The use of the letters of the alphabet as an art form is nothing more than a version of the contemplative vision, because it tries to perceive simultaneously the unity of the two worlds in which he lives the world of thought through language and the plastic world of observation.'
(The artist quoted in Sartec/Ministry of Information of the Iraqi Republic (eds.), Iraq Contemporary Art Vol.1 Painting, Milano 1977, p. 118.)
One of Iraq's most significant and prolific artists, the acclaimed Iraqi Modernist Shaker Hassan Al Said co-founded the influential Baghdad Modern Art Group with renowned Iraqi artist Jewad Selim in 1951. A practising theorist, teacher and historian, he contributed a vast amount of reflections and writings that have come to form a body of doctrine with considerable influence on the direction of the Iraqi art movement. As such, Al Said is unrivalled in his synthesis of Islam, modernity and a regional Arab identity.
Christie's is pleased to present a rare work La Ghalib illa Allah by the artist from 1987 that reflects a seminal example from the artist's oeuvre that developed after he established the One Dimension Group in 1971, in which he explored the visualisation and philosophy of Arabic script in Modern art under the influence of Sufism, exemplifying the notion of the spiritual in art through abstraction.
Al Said's focus was turned not to the highly stylised and rule laden calligraphy of Arab tradition, but in fact searched for freedom in the simplest form of individual letters. As such, even scribbles on an old derelict wall - hints of graffiti that serve as a note to time and al azal (eternity) - became a means of instigating a state of mind akin to an intense trance, much in the same way as the intense meditative state that was of deep religious importance to the Sufis. In this sense, the notion of One Dimension was a referral to the one dimension that could connect Man with God.
This painting, a beautiful representation of Al Said's oeuvre, simultaneously appears ancient and worn while anchoring itself in the modern context through graffiti and abstract splashes of paint. In La Ghalib illa Allah, Al Said's exploration of the dimensions of space and time are apparent and mesmerizingly connects the two-dimensional canvas with non-dimensional space through the
cracks in the wall. Al Said pursues inspiration from tradition (istilham al-turath) as well as the Arabic letter (istilham al-harf) while constructing a vision clearly rooted in modern culture. In the present example, the Arabic script presents a literary, symbolic, graphic and emotional significance. The Arabic graffiti reads 'there is no conqueror but God,' the saying that is famous for its inscription in Alhambra. The King instructed that his soldiers carve the saying into the palace's walls when Seville fell to Christians in 1248.
This phrase is particularly poignant within the context of Iraqi history - 1987 references the Iran-Iraq War. Al Said's choice of phrase reflects his deep respect for religion and faith with an underlying sense of hope that is juxtaposed against his colour palette and composition that reflects his deep despair for the tumultuous political affairs that rocked his beloved native country. Notoriously depressed by the situation in Iraq, this work reveals a seminal example of the artist's experiments in time and space in what he termed 'the experience of environmental truth in art.' As such, Al Said turned to integrating the idea of a wall into his art to convey a sense of collapse of time into space that remained a key theme in his oeuvre until his untimely death in 2004.
Previously in the collection of Dr. Sulaiman Al Askari in Kuwait, who was a close friend of the artist and former General Secretary of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature as well as the current editor in chief of Al-Arabi magazine, this stunning work featured on the cover of Jaridat Al Funoon in 2004 for the issue that was a posthumous homage to the artist.