Iraqi and Portuguese contemporary art

It was both a surprise and not a surprise to find the Iraqi works, hidden away in a remote cupboard of the Modern Collection, which is usually known as a collection of Portuguese modernism. And indeed one result of this exhibition is to show works from other countries. Britain and France are perhaps to be expected, but when one remembers Gulbenkian’s interests in oil, Iraq is obvious too. Perhaps the more surprising thing is not that these works stand out for being Iraqi, but rather the opposite. They blend remarkably well with the Portuguese paintings beside them, and indicate a common search for a language of modernism in the 1950s and 60s. In this the links between Iraq, and other countries in the area, with Europe, and especially France, are very evident. This was equally true of Portugal. If the links had been with the USA, the predominant style might have been very different. Instead what we see here, in these small- scale, tentative works, a cautious attempt to blend figurative motifs – women, houses, landscape – with a generalised abstract pattern-making. In fact it may well be the decorative tradition, shared by Portugal and Iraq, which dominates, and which makes these works such sympathetic neighbours. So apparently at home, side by side, it is only now, when Iraqi artists are being rediscovered by Western institutions such as the Tate, or the Pompidou, that an artist like Dia Al-Azzawi is given individual recognition. Such is his current standing that the work which opened this show is currently on tour to Doha. It has been replaced with a painting by Hafidh Al-Druby. The works were bought from shows organised by the Iraqi Artists Union and Society in 1962 and 1966: the works were recent, and often by young artists. Saadi Al-Kabi, for example, was only 25 when his work was bought for the Modern Collection. They were contemporary with artists like Rui Filipe who were bought directly from the 1957 Exhibition of Visual Arts in Portugal, in similar acts of philanthropic patronage.

Penelope Curtis, curator


Em dezembro de 1962, o Dr. José de Azeredo Perdigão deslocou-se ao Iraque para participar na celebração do Milenário da Cidade de Bagdade. As relações económicas da Fundação com o Iraque eram muito fortes na época, o que se refletiu igualmente no incentivo aos artistas iraquianos através da aquisição de um conjunto obras que estavam expostas no Museu de Arte Moderna de Bagdade. Em novembro de 1966, na inauguração da Sociedade dos Artistas Iraquianos e da Arte em Bagdade foi realizada uma exposição internacional, com obras de artistas portugueses e estrangeiros pertencentes à Coleção da Gulbenkian, ao mesmo tempo que era mostrada arte moderna iraquiana, que resultou na aquisição de importantes obras para a coleção de arte da Fundação que aqui apresentamos algumas. Um dos grandes artistas iraquianos aqui destacado, Dia Al-Azzawi, encontrou na arte islâmica signos e símbolos que influenciaram a sua obra, bem como viu na arte popular ou na poesia Palestiniana fonte de trabalho. Al-Azzawi influenciou uma série de outros artistas que procuraram nas raízes da arte islâmica inspiração para as suas obras.

Patrícia Rosas, curadora

Updated on 18 october 2016

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