Al-Ru’yya Al-Jadidah, New Vision
It’s impossible to introduce the New Vision Group (al-Ru’yya al-Jadidah) without remarking on their most significant achievement, Al Wasiti Festival. The New Vision Group follows ideas of pan-Arabism, and the festival successfully connected artists from across the Arab world. This lead to the formation of the Union of Arab Plastic Artists. This union was highly significant for modern Arab art as it suggested, internationally, a promise for pan-Arabism.
New Vision Group believed in total stylistic freedom for the artist. Also, they were highly concerned with their expression’s contemporary sociopolitical realities. In an untruth environment caused by the Baath party’s cultural repression, the collective insisted on representing the truth. One of the group’s central figures, Dia Al-Azzawi, was already in colloboration with several preceding collectives, his involvement starting with the Impressionists, continuing with the Baghdad Group of Modern Art as well as One Dimension Group. The approach adopted by the New Vision Group towards cultural heritage had its seeds in these earlier collectives. They argued that,
“heritage is not a prison, a static phenomenon or a force capable of repressing creativity so long as we have the freedom to accept or challenge its norms.”
The work of Dia Al-Azzawi
In his artistic expression, Dia Al-Azzawi has been following these ideals set by New Vision until this day, nourishing his work with mythology and history. His genius lies initially in his craftsmanship, but his art’s secret is in combining the craft with all the historical multiplicity that precedes him. The epic of “Gilgamesh”, the Arabian Nights stories, and al Hussein at Kerbala are a few examples that provide the richness of characters to his contemporary allegories.
One of his most controversial works is famous for its size before its style or content, consisting of six sections. Al-Azzawi, a master of colors, chose to use only pen and paper for this piece. Sabra and Shatila Massacre 1982-3 is a response to the Palestinian refugees’ massacre in Beirut’s camps at that time. It was inspired by Jean Genet’s Quatre Heures à Chatila. French writer, Genet, was one of the first observers to enter the camp after the massacre. Human States series, on the other hand, were inspired by a personal experience about 15 years before that, when he had to join the army for the third time. “I was in the north of the country when the army was fighting the Kurds. And like many Iraqis, I had numerous friends on the other side.”
Azzawi’s artwork ranges in media as well as the content. Sculpture, ceramics, and tapestry are some of the media he worked in and object art. His sculptures differ in size, some of them classified as monuments. Hanging Garden of Babylon is a public sculpture displayed in Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is a reference to the conflict among the human race creating self-destruction, which is never-ending.
In response, Al-Azzawi chose to live a life immersed in art. In an interview, he stated that he owed his life to arts and that he would have, otherwise, lived a life of obscurity, frustration, and defeat.
Charles Pocock, ‘The Reason for the Project’, 2011. contemporarypractices.net
Jabra I. Jabra, ‘dhia al-azzawi’, Beirut(Gallery One), 1969. dafbeirut.org
Wafa Roz, Dia Al Azzawi ‘bio’, Dalloul Art Foundation, 2017. dafbeirut.org
Jessica Morgan, ‘Sabra and Shatila Massacre’, 2011. tate.org.uk
Martin Gayford, Interview: ‘I felt I was more connected in a way with Arab art’, 2016. www.apollo-magazine.com
Philip Barcio, ‘The Politically Abstract Art of Dia al-Azzawi’, 2017. ideelart.com
Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 2013 China ink on handmade paper, 77 x 56.5cm from meemartgallery.com