Pomegranate Gallery is pleased to announce the upcoming exhibition entitled “Contemporary Iraqi Art”. The opening reception will be held Thursday, November 1st from 6:00 to 8:00pm. This exhibition is one of the gallery’s largest to date, and reveals both the differences and the common ground in works by artists who still reside in Iraq as well as those who have fled, becoming expatriates in France, England, Jordan, and the United States. Works by sixteen artists are featured, including nine painters who are members of the Iraqi Phoenix group from Baghdad, the first exhibition for whom in 2006 drew thousands of visitors. This expanded exhibition will run through to Saturday, December 15th, 2007.
Qasim Sabti’s works epitomize the spirit of the Iraqi Phoenix group from Baghdad. His powerful abstract collages return life to books whose texts had been completely destroyed. These book covers are symbolic documents of the resilience of cultural life as well as his own attempt to gain victory over the destruction that surrounded him in Baghdad. Esam Pasha’s “Tears of Wax” are bold expressions created during a very specific moment in history: Tears ran down many faces during the hot nights in April, 2003, when Baghdad was being bombed and so many buildings were burning. Like his fellow members of the Iraqi Phoenix group, Hayder Ali has experienced a war and ensuing terrorism have left deep painful scars in the memory of the Iraqi people, which can never be forgotten. Yet, like the phoenix, his paintings rise brilliantly as his reflection of a harmony of nature and the human condition. Mohammed Shammarey’s paintings appear to be lyrical abstractions, but they are charged with images of the war and the fast pace of change that followed. Hana Malallah’s signature grids of triangles recall the Islamic ceramic tiles that decorate so many ancient walls in Baghdad, yet the burns and bullet holes reflect the ongoing conflict. During the outbreak of the war in 2003, Nazar Yahya fled with his family to the safety of Jordan, where they reside today. His painterly abstractions in earth tones reflect the severe desert environment. Ghassan Ghayeb utilizes textiles, glass, minerals, and even reflecting chrome, as elements that act to enhance roles of color, shape, and texture to form geometric shapes. His layers unite to create metaphors for the layers of external, and particularly internal, realties of our daily lives. Ismail Khayat is a renowned artist from Kurdistan whose poignant series of masks, painted in watercolor and India ink, is called “Anfal Memory” in honor of the 182,000 Kurds who suffered genocide under Saddam Hussein. Delair Shaker is the son of one of Iraq’s pioneers in ceramic art in Iraq, Saad Shaker. Currently living in Phoenix, he produces both ceramics as well as abstract watercolors. The Iraqi Phoenix group reflects the irrepressible spirit of rebirth and the resilience of the creative spirit. Their paintings stand as tactile and visible testament to the most admirable traits of resilience and rebirth after tragedy.
An important documentary artist recording that tragedy was Farah Nosh, one of the few western freelance photographers to work in Baghdad under the regime of Saddam Hussein. During the 2003 conflict, the Canadian-born Iraqi produced a wartime photo-reportage of her family, which caught the attention of Getty Images, for whom she has worked on assignment. In 2006, she continued her work in the troubled city, covering both the Iraqi civilian side as well as embedding with American military forces. Amal Alwan continues to persevere in Baghdad where she paints street scenes filled with life and a longing for peace. Amar Dawod is a painter, sculptor, and graphic artist residing in Sweden who continues to find inspiration in his Iraq’s rich ancient art, history, and literature. With his controlled gestural lines that are pure, simple — and the addition of color — Hassan Massoudy, who lives in Paris, has pushed the traditional craft of calligraphy to a brilliant new form. Naziha Rashid has lived in New York since 1994 and employs the archetypal village woman as a figure of central importance in her paintings, combined with symbols of Iraqi folklore. Dia Al-Azzawi, who is certainly among the best-known expatriate artists from Iraq, has lived in London since 1976. He is credited as being among the first Iraqi expatriates to introduce Arab abstraction to Europe.
The founder of Pomegranate Gallery, Oded Halahmy, settled in SoHo in 1971. Serious critical recognition has continued to followed him ever since, and his sculptures are in many important collections, including the Guggenheim, the Hirshhorn, and many others. His abstract sculptures attain a lyricism owing to their bold architectonic forms combined with an inherent organicism, with references to the hieratic symbols of Mesopotamian sculpture.
Halahmy, who felt compelled to open a gallery that would introduce Americans to the serious artistic initiatives from the Middle East, has organized this exhibition with the assistance of Peter Hastings Falk, an independent curator best known for his art reference books, including the multi-volume Who Was Who in American Art.
“This exhibition is testament that the creative spirit never dies, despite dire conditions. I hope that these works from my native Iraq will the serve as cultural ambassadors to awaken American consciousness of Baghdad’s leading role in fine arts from the Arab world” says Halahmy. “Although we are all from different ethnic groups, our objective is to encourage all forms of art as an effective long-term means of fostering the peace dialogue. If we all recognize that the arts can be a powerful unifier of disparate cultures, the chance for peace in Iraq, the Middle East, and around the world will be greatly enhanced.”