A pioneer of Modern Iraqi art, Dia Al-Azzawi's ability to transcribe his native cultural sensitivity and appreciation into his oeuvre has captivated the attention of collectors, art appreciators and institutions alike. Now internationally recognised, Al-Azzawi started his artistic career in 1964 having studied in the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad under the leadership and guidance of Hafidh Al-Drouby following a degree in archaeology which has continued to have a profound impact on his art.
In 1969 Al-Azzawi formed the New Vision Group (al-Ru'yya al-Jadidah), which united artists through their ideology and cultural thinking as opposed to the stylistic link that was characteristic of the Baghdad Modern Art Group established by Jewad Selim and Shaker Hassan Al Said many years before. Broadening their inspiration to encompass Arab culture in its entirety, Al-Azzawi's works began to tackle themes of pain, death and conflict, linking the visual culture of the past with the present.
Upon his immigration to London in the 1970s and his reintroduction to collections of Islamic manuscripts and poetry that were found in museum collections there, Al-Azzawi continued to explore the connection of the written word, the visualisation of the Arabic language and painting. In the same way that words are the material, so to speak, of writing, Al-Azzawi felt that paint as a material and painting was equally a form of poetic expression. Al-Azzawi's involvement with poetry was by no means a new concept in the 1970s; he had, for example, created a series of drawings in the 1960s based on the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic (an example of which is lot 155 in this sale) and participated in many exhibitions and symposia with the likes of Rafa Nasiri and Hashim Samarchi to declare the profound relation between poetry and art. However, the series of works in the 1970s took on a more mature and reflective stance on poetry particularly following the political events in Iraq and the effect the military service experience had on the artist.
Sumt Lem Yentehi Mada (Neverending Silence), painted in 1973, is a captivating and seminal example of a series of works Al-Azzawi created in the 1970s that encapsulate this undertone of intensity that pushed the artist to seek further the harmonious relationship between letters, words and figurative representation. It is a tribute to Waddah Al-Yemen, a famous poet (considered to be the national poet of Yemen) who was born in the second half of the seventh century. A reputed womaniser, he was famous for his romantic and somewhat overtly explicit poems that proclaimed his love for Rawda and later the wife of Caliph Al-Walid I. In the present lot, two figures are intertwined in a passionate and raw embrace surrounded by a non-descript neutral background emulating a sense of silence that is referenced in the title. Three Arabic letters appear at the top of the composition, which hold no meaning, as a nod to the power of the Arabic language and homage to Al-Yemen. The facial features of the figures are hidden. Characteristically, Al-Azzawi has chosen to depict these combined figures in a mannerism deeply rooted in Sumerian visual lexicons, particularly of Sumerian fertility symbols. What results is an interplay of lines and colours, signs and disproportionate depictions of human body forms that is akin to the Cubist manner. Much in the way that Picasso chose to incorporate African visual identity into European painting, Al-Azzawi has managed to introduce an archaeological nod to the Sumerian identity into a Modern context.