Mahmoud Sabri (Iraqi, 1927-2012)
Lots are subject to 5% import Duty on the importat… Read more Mahmoud Sabri has long been recognised as a thinker and one of the most important figures in laying the foundations of Modern Iraqi art. Not afraid to express, through writing and painting, his opinion about current affairs and socialistic theories, he helped to establish an assorted awareness in Iraq and the Middle East pushing a development in artistic expression. Christie's is honoured to be offering for the first time at auction, three magnificent pieces by Mahmoud Sabri from the Artist's Estate that capture the artist's development, from his deeply social work, to his examination of Iraqi cultural heritage, to the final period in his oeuvre marked by a new language of expression and thinking he referred to as Quantum Realism. Each work shows a profound understanding of deep-rooted ideologies that cement Sabri's positioning in Iraqi and consequently Arab art history. Born in 1927 in Baghdad, Mahmoud Sabri left to the United Kingdom to complete his studies in social sciences. There he met Zaid Saleh in Loughborough where the two discussed their personal ideologies as well as art and history. Inspired to start painting himself, Sabri returned to Baghdad in 1949 but took up a position in a bank where he later became head. He meanwhile had met with the group of artists that was to eventually form the Societé Primitive, including Khalid Al Qassab (the private collection of which Christie's Dubai sold in October 2014, achieving $606,250), Faik Hassan and others exhibiting with them at the Al-Qassab residence in 1952. Unlike the Jama't Al Fan Al Hadith, including Jewad Selim and Shaker Hassan Al Said who believed in the doption of Iraqi heritage only, Sabri was committed to the ideology that everyone's cultural heritage should be incorporated and adopted as his own. POLITICAL AND SOCIAL DISCOURSE IN PAINTINGS OF THE 1950S AND EARLY 1960S Due to the changing political climate of 1950s Iraq which developed a deep rift between the higher and lower classes, involvement in the life of the hardships of the poor and dispossessed became a distinguishing mark of a majority of Iraqi art in the early and mid-1950s. Unlike his artistic counterparts who were more concerned with producing works that were more aesthetic in style, Sabri was indifferent to the 'nicer' notions of style and traditions that were important to others. Instead, he was preoccupied with using his works to highlight social and political issues and the plight of the people. Sabri's agony, so to speak, was partly political, partly existential and so the treatment of his social themes was full of pain, protest and anger. His early works were characterised by social consciousness and humanitarianism. In his paintings he thus depicted revolutionaries, poverty, floods and demonstrations; his individuals became characterised by a leanness and toughness that cemented Sabri's stance on social issues. The 1950s marked a period of instability in Iraq due to changing economic developments, political dissidence and a rising hatred of the dependency on the British following the rise of Pan-Arabism instigated by Nasser in Egypt. Notably, riots over prison conditions broke out in 1953, particularly following the death of a young man named Numan Mohamed Al Saleh, who was proclaimed a martyr and whose death consequently instigated a large processional funeral that was attended by thousands of people to proclaim their defiance against the regime and revolt against the situation of the lower and working classes. This event inspired Sabri to begin a series of works under the title Janazet Al Shaheed of which Janazet from 1963 (Lot 41) is a seminal example marking 12 years of reworking and revisiting multiple versions, which matured as an increased sense of intensity in his thinking pushed the way he looked at the funeral as a topic of struggle and sacrifice in the face of death. One of the few works by the artist that was political in nature as opposed to social, each of the character's faces show a sense of determination and defiance highlighted by the abstract and harsh linear treatment of the figures. Their prominent eyes, a distinct characteristic of Sabri's work during this period, serve to highlight the intensity of the situation and the resistance in the face of death as in fact an affirmation of life. Each part of the painting, divided into three sections so to speak, represent different symbols of the revolution, personified by the characters depicted. On the right the group of staunch marchers, including a woman highlighted in her green dress amongst the overall red tones of the painting, represent the working class and their march for equal rights and equality, their fists clenched in determination. In the middle, young veiled woman huddle together, including a child pulling at his mother's arm, representing the plight of the young and the lack of hope for the future. Lastly, the drummers represent the sound of change approaching and the call for this change. In 1960 Sabri left for Russia to study at the Surikov Institute of Art under the artist Alexander Deyneka, who was very impressed with his work. In turn Sabri was very inspired by Russian sculpture and paintings, becoming enamoured with Russian icons. There was a development and shift in Sabri's style following his time in Russia that showed a direct link stylistically to iconography with a palette that reached out beyond his classical use of blacks and reds. Janazet hints at these inspirations in its stylistic approach versus for his work from the 1950s, such as his most famous painting Algeria and an untitled work which was sold at Christie's Dubai October 2014 (price realised: $425,000). In 1963, Sabri relocated to Prague , remaining there until 2009 when he moved to England, passing away in 2012. In some respects his artistic practice and ideologies ostracised him from the artistic circles in Iraq, leaving Sabri sadly often overlooked. In this sense Janazet is a culmination of a multifaceted representation of Sabri's political and social ideologies that were intensified following the Ba'athist Coup. Mahmoud Sabri in front of one of the works from the Janazet series. Courtesy of the Artist's Estate. REFLECTIONS ON IRAQI HERITAGE LATE 1960S Whilst in Prague, Sabri exhibited his works all over the Czech Republic.His works took on a different approach, incorporating a more blue and purple palette, which tackled notions of technological, as opposed to social, discourse. His belief was that technology would lead to downfall and destruction and as a result his paintings took on a very sinister undertone In the mid-late 1960s, Sabri became interested in Iraqi heritage and the architecture and art of the Sumerians and Babylonians. Reading and researching further he was captivated by the use of symbols in historical artefacts, such as the one below, where different characters were used to highlight the difference in social sectors, particularly the strength of the ruling authority and overpowering of slaves as well as the Sumerian renditions of the relationship between humans and animals, animals with animals. What stood out to him in specific was the interplay between the strongest and the weakest. Many of his works from this period onwards would thus include a headless figure, a symbol of terrorism and slavery that offered an abstract discourse on current affairs. Lot 42 Oppression or Al Turath (Sabri often left his works without titles, insisting that the painting itself should be strong enough to reflect its own meaning) is a charming example from Sabri's oeuvre that captured this Al Turath period. Using clear Sumerian artistic references, he portrays a figure of authority seated with a water pipe, his servant offering him the head of a slain animal as the machete is held high in his hand. Meanwhile on the left a large lion attacks and kills a gazelle like creature as two hunters attempt to kill another. Sabri is thus highlighting the notions of the circle of life, the weak, the strong and a clear reference to the fact that humans are in fact animals, developing their own hierarchy much like in nature. Mahmoud Sabri at the Quantum Realism exhibition in Prague, 1971. Courtesy of the Artist's Estate. QUANTUM REALISM - AN ART OF THE TECHNO-NUCLEAR AGE In the late 1960s, Mahmoud Sabri completely changed his outlook on life and art, choosing to disregard his previous political and social notions, stripping art down to scientific equation with infinite creative possibilities that he believed could change people's way of life. The initial context for Sabri's growing fascination with science was the 1960s, where there were major discoveries in science, technology and space exploration. Sabri saw quantum physics and Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which led humans into space and revolutionised technology and the way of seeing and thinking, as a way of creating art and linking the two together. In 1971 his ideas were formulated and published into a manifesto entitled Quantum Realism - an art of the techno-nuclear age and the art he produced following this principle was exhibited with the launch of this manifesto in Prague that same year; it would sadly be Sabri's last exhibition before his death. His ideas were debated and discussed in depth but sadly too avant-garde for the artistic circle of Iraq in the 1970s and were never applied artistically. Lot 43, Water and Air or H2O & 4N2.O2 from 1969 epitomises Sabri's theory that represents each of the natural 92 atoms telements by its colourful atomic line-spectrum. That is to say that Water for example, would be represented by the colourful spectrum of the atoms of its main components: Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (02) and Air is equally represented by the colourful spectrum of its main components Oxygen (O2) and Nitrogen (N2). PROPERTY FROM THE ARTIST'S ESTATE
Mahmoud Sabri (Iraqi, 1927-2012)

Jnazet (Funeral)

Details
Mahmoud Sabri (Iraqi, 1927-2012)
Jnazet (Funeral)
signed with the artist's initials and dated in Arabic (lower left)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 55 1/8in. (100 x 140cm.)
Painted in 1961
Provenance
The Artist's Estate.
Literature
Dr. H. Touqmachi (ed.), Mahmoud Sabri: His Life, Art & Thoughts (in Arabic), Amman 2013 (illustrated in colour, incorrectly sized, p. 61).
Exhibited
London, La Galleria Pall Mall, Mahmoud Sabri 1927-2012; First Retrospective, 2013 (illustrated in colour, p. 20).
Special notice

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