Mahmoud Hammad (Syrian, 1923-1988)
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Mahmoud Hammad (Syrian, 1923-1988)

(i) Palestine Pavillion, Damascus International fair (Study) (ii) Palestine Pavillion, Damascus International fair (Study); alternative left panel

Mahmoud Hammad (Syrian, 1923-1988)
(i) Palestine Pavillion, Damascus International fair (Study)
(ii) Palestine Pavillion, Damascus International fair (Study); alternative left panel
signed and dated in Arabic (lower left); titled and dated in Arabic (lower right)
each: gouache and ink on paper
(i) 41 ¾ x 14 1/8in. (106 x 36cm.)
(ii)13 ¾ x 14 1/8in. (35 x 36cm.)
Executed in 1962
The Artist’s Estate.
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Lot Essay

One of the leading founders of the Damascus Group, Mahmoud Hammad’s modern and innovative style has cemented his standing as one of the pioneers in the history of Syrian art. A multi-disciplinary artist, versed in painting, printmaking, murals, medal engraving and sculpture, his various travels across Italy, infused in his works a unique ability to combine a Middle Eastern visual practice with a Western sensitivity. Christie’s is honoured to be offering two works by the artist that demonstrate Hammad’s artistic trajectory and development of a signature style.

Having become an art professor in Daraa following his marriage to the late Lebanese artist Durriya Fakhoury in 1957, the Horan period as it has come to be known, whereby the artist painted scenes of the southern area infusing archeological and social aspects into his works would lay the foundation for the political undertones that were to infuse his works. To this end Christie’s is honoured to be presenting a seminal work from the artist’s oeuvre that captures his political sensitivities and ability to infuse socio-political discourse into artistic practice, entitled Palestine Pavillion, Damascus International fair (Study) from 1962.

In a time of zeal and fervour that followed Syria’s independence, the 1960s was to be commonly known as Damascus’ golden era, where an influx of Syrians educated in the West as well as foreign diplomats flocked towards the city and contributed towards the country’s burgeoning cultural and art scenes. In 1962 the Damascus International Fair took place, where the present work served as a preparatory piece for the final mural that Hammad was to exhibit at the Palestinian Pavilion. Although Syria appeared to be benefitting from a time of prosperity, underlying political events such as the unravelling of the United Arab Republic, meant that the political climate was slowly changing. As tension between the Palestinians and the Israeli’s was slowly mounting, Syria, in unity, had instigated a series of attacks in the Sea of Galilee that had resulted in further deaths on the Syrian side. It is thus very poignant that Hammad was nominated to represent and depict Palestine at the International Fair, showing blatant Syrian unity with the Cause.

The present work is unique in that it offers insight into the workings of Hammad’s final artistic production. Although three sheets are glued together as if the final composition that the artist intended to produce for his mural, an additional sheet that accompanies the work shows Hammad’s reworking of the figures to produce what would actually be the final layout of the mural as shown in photographs of the fair. One of the most complete sketches that the artist had produced, it details a plethora of symbolic references that underlyingly refer to the political strife that had hit the Palestinians since 1948. Reading from right to left, as in the Arabic language, the viewer sees the unravelling of these events as they unravel across the composition. In the first panel, there are hints at a prosperous nation, emphasised by the inclusion of musicians, field workers, buildings that appear to rise in the background, happy families, the doves that fly in the sky with a happy sun, speak of peace and serenity. As the figures merge into the central panel, the tones shift into a palette of reds. Hammad emphasises a scene of despair; an old man dying to represent the death of a generation and history, a woman with her arms outstretched to the sky as if she has been crucified which simultaneously references the religious importance of Palestine. Finally in the last panel of the original sketch Hammad instigates a sense of hope that showcases a unity in the fight against Israel, the fida’iyeen who bid farewell to their families to fight the cause, the representation of many children alluding to the hope of the future generations. Although this was to be replaced by a new panel which equally alludes to the fight for the cause, Hammad adds a few scientists in a laboratory that hints at the notion that fighting should be on both a physical and intellectual level. In this expansive and symbolically rich composition, Hammad manages to transport his viewers into the midst of the Palestinian struggle.

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