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Christie's is honoured to be offering four works by Iraqi artists from the private collection of Mr. Abdul Wahed Al Sahi. Mr. Al Sahi was born in Baghdad in 1944 and grew up in the capital where the beauty that surrounded him inspired him to develop an interest for the arts and crafts from a young age. During his years in Iraq, he befriended many artists who lived in the capital and frequently visited their studios where they often held enriching conversations about art and aesthetic theories. As he attended exhibitions and openings regularly and worked as a Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad from 1973 to 1993, Al Sahi spent time with many artists and started collecting the works he
In 1992, Mr. Al Sahi opened his first eponymous art gallery in Harfiyat and soon after, he inaugurated a second space in an area known as a Mansour where he dealt with both paintings and decorative arts. For many years, Al Sahi was happily managing two galleries, working closely with the artists he knew and the art he appreciated, but unfortunately, when the war hit, both his spaces
were destroyed under bombs.
His collection to date stands as a constant reminder of the glorious days of the art scene in Baghdad. The works offered in the present sale are a testimony to the richness and variety of the artistic production in Baghdad during those years.
The painting by Kadhim Haidar (lot 61 in this sale) is an elegant portrait of the sister of famous Iraqi politician, Ghassan Al Attiyah. Depicting a very simple and graceful lady, the present composition is a rare example of a different pictorial venture by the Iraqi artist; Haidar is mostly known for his extraordinary ability to seamlessly weave Iraqi socio-political history in his works. This portrait also reveals the artist's intimate ties with the Iraqi elite, as hinted by the relaxed pose of the figure. The casual clothing and setting allude to a calm period in Iraqi history, a time that has long passed. Taking a closer look at the aesthetics, the cheerful palette of the painting is appealing without being overwhelming, while the artist has given the work a wash of colour to appear as if the image, just like the moment it captures, is fleeting.
One of the leaders of the Baghdad Modern Arts Group in the 1950s, Iraqi sculptor Khalid Al-Rahal is best known for his infamous work Al Jundi Al Mahjoul, or the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad which has cemented his place in Iraqi Modern art history. Having studied under Jewad Selim, Al-Rahal also worked with the Directorate of Antiquities in Baghdad and as a result was very much influenced by the sculptures of early Mesopotamia, particularly those of Babylon and Assyria. In the present work (lot 62 in this sale), the influence of these ancient civilisations is palpable, as each of the figures' small rounded heads with elongated, almost squared, torsoes shows a fusion of ancient Sumerian sculptures with a European sensitivity that is a result of Al-Rahal's exposure to Western art during his studies in Rome at the Academy of Fine Arts. The artist's use of simple lines contrasts with the compactness of its structure and in its juxtaposition of structure and form, Al-Rahal manages to instil a sense of movement within a familial unit that delights and enchants.
Mohammad Moheraldin's work entitled Subject Number 1 or Shadow (lot 63 in this sale) is an intriguing composition in which the artist juxtaposes the portrait of a man, apparently in formal attire, with its shadow and sketch and thus refers to the different layers of the society and the impact that politics may have on the citizens of Iraq. Al Meaydiyah or The Female Labourer (lot 64 in this sale) by Ali Talib was painted in 1976, a year that marked the artist's radical departure from his dominant artistic style to a new phase of his aesthetic language. About this shift into a new artistic phase, the renowned art critic May Muzaffar commented in 1976 'his painting[s] maintained [their] basic character as work[s] motivated
from an inner world reflecting the intensity of his mind as well as emotions' (M. Muzaffar quoted in "A Turmoil Under a Quiet Surface" in Gilgamesh Magazine, no. 3, 1988). Talib's works from 1976 onwards revealed a more organised thought process as well as artistic content, like in Al Meaydiyah where the artist has portrayed an intriguing profile of a woman. The present lot shares great similarity with works that the Iraqi artist had presented in an exhibition during the year of its production, in which 'faces, masked or deformed, were reflected in an atmosphere of stage design where the light allowed the spectator to get involved with the intriguing characters [on canvas] that emerged from the darkness of their surroundings' (idem). Al Meaydiyah too portrays a caricaturised masked face, the profile of a female labourer from southern Iraq, with minimal detail in the background so as to equip the work with an innate spotlight and draw the viewer's gaze immediately to the grotesque yet striking woman. From here on, this style remained one of Talib's foremost approaches to his art for the rest of his oeuvre and 'although his paintings vary in their degree of intensity, they always hold back their own mystery and it is in this ambiguity that the charm of his art lays' (idem).
THE COLLECTION OF MR. ABDUL WAHED AL SAHI, AMMAN