Hafidh al-Droubi is primarily remembered for his work as an educator and developer of art pedagogy in Iraq during the mid-twentieth century. Yet he was also an active painter who possessed a talent for capturing the beauty of everyday life through a sophisticated manipulation of form and color. Al-Droubi is considered one of the pioneers of Iraqi modern art as he made several early contributions to its development.
Al-Droubi began his formal education in the arts at the Accademia Reale in Rome, becoming one of the first Iraqi artists to study abroad. He would later earn a degree from Goldsmiths College in London in 1950. After his studies in Rome, he returned to Iraq and became an active participant in the burgeoning art scene. During the formative years between studying in Rome and London, Al-Droubi took several steps to professionalize art practice in Iraq. In 1941, he established Iraq's first free artist studio, which gave aspiring artists a space to learn and practice art-making. In the subsequent decade, Al-Droubi opened similar artist studios at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Baghdad University, where he could supervise and encourage emerging talent. Many other studios like these opened around Baghdad, each headed by established artist. This system proved highly effective as many notable Iraqi artists received their early training from these ateliers.
Al-Droubi was also a founding member of the Society of the Friends of Art, whose membership included Jewad Selim, Faiq Hassan, and Abdul Qadir al-Rassam. Established in 1941, this was the first official artist collective in Iraq. The group not only aimed to give artists an intellectual space in which to engage with each other's art practices but also to cultivate an appreciation of art amongst the general public. One way the Society did this was to hold annual exhibitions. This activity showcased member artwork to the community and allowed for collective artistic critique. Al-Droubi actively exhibited with this group.
In 1953, al-Droubi founded the Impressionist Group as an extension of his work as an art educator. The group largely followed al-Droubi's pedagogical agendas and consisted of his students and colleagues, including Dia Azzawi. Despite the name, the Impressionist Group approached art making from various technical and stylistic angles. Therefore, developing a cohesive style was not the aim of the group's members, but rather the cultivation of a collective attitude towards art instruction. This attitude fostered a spirit of experimentation amongst the group as they investigated both European avant-garde movements and their own interpretations of the Iraqi landscape.
Al-Droubi was particularly dedicated to this eclecticism within his own art practice. Throughout his career, the artist maintained a fidelity to his subject matter rarely straying from the streets, marketplaces, and interiors of Iraq's cities and villages. However, he moved freely between realist, impressionist, and cubist styles; at times negotiating among more than one of these to produce a unique rendering of color and form. Al-Droubi mastered the use of light and shadow in his works to create a dynamic interaction of spatial elements. He also practiced an expert subtlety when rendering the human form, so much so that the delicate features of his subjects carry a heightened humanity.
Despite abstracted elements, Al-Droubi's canvases often have a journalistic quality. They capture the variety of Iraqi society and quintessential moments of Iraqi life: a day at the souq, a drink at the café, or an afternoon chore. Centered primarily on life in Baghdad, his works convince the viewer of their representative authenticity through their very banality. Yet, they excite the viewer through their beauty, detail, and inventiveness. To al-Droubi, as well as many of his contemporaries, the ordinary was worthy of representation because it pointed towards a collective national self-image. In other words, his subjects held significance in their perceived Iraqiness.
Al-Droubi is most commonly known for his cubist works. However, the extent to which he adhered to the Cubist paradigm as it was practiced in Europe is open to debate. With that said, his work does exhibit an aesthetic reference arising from the cubist tendency to fragment space and shift perspective. However, his variant use of this fragmentation and his insistence on maintaining naturalistic forms is quite unique to his practice. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that al-Droubi wished to depict light, shadow, and color as he perceived them within the Iraqi environment, and Cubism, as an aesthetic, was a convenient starting point. The Islamic tradition of miniature painting with its ability to express multiple views in one static image also acted as an aesthetic foundation for al-Droubi and his colleagues.
Throughout his career, al-Droubi exhibited in various countries and venues. He exhibited extensively with all of the groups in which he held membership, including the Society of the Friends of Art and the Impressionists. He had at least three solo exhibitions, in 1941, 1951, and 1972. Furthermore, Al-Droubi was an exhibiting artist at the 1952 Ibn Sina show in Baghdad. He displayed his work in Europe in various Iraqi collective exhibitions and he participated in the 1965 Beirut Exhibition of Contemporary Iraqi Art. Along with his extensive exhibition history, al-Droubi received many accolades attesting to his key role in the establishment of Iraqi modern art. Along with receiving many honorary awards from the Society of Iraqi Plastic Arts, he was also one of only four artists to be honored at the Al-Wasiti Festival in 1972.
Hafidh al-Droubi was a crucial figures in the development of modernism in Iraq, especially in the realm of art education. In the course of a career that included service in important positions like the Deanship of the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad and the Chair of the Society of Iraqi Plastic Arts, he demonstrated a deep commitment to providing knowledge and resources for succeeding generations. Indeed, he was instrumental in instilling the value of art education among his student and colleagues.
Al-Droubi's work can be appreciated today in many settings around the world, including museums, government buildings, and universities; foremost among these sites is Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Art in Amman, Jordan. His works were also held at the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad. Many of these were looted from the museum's collection and have yet to be recovered.
Group exhibitions – The Impressionists
|1972||Solo-Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1964||Contemporary Iraqi Art Group Exhibition, Beirut, Lebanon|
|_____||Various Exhibitions in Europe|
|1957||The Baghdad Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Al-Mansur Club, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1952||Ibn Sina Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1951||Solo-Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1945||Exhibition of the Society of the Friends of Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1943 ||Exhibition of the Society of the Friends of Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|_____||A Permanent Collection of Paintings and Drawings made in Iraq, Directorate General of Antiquities, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1942||Exhibition of the Society of the Friends of Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1941||Solo-Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|_____||Exhibition of the Society of the Friends of Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
Awards and Honors
Received honorary awards from the Society of Iraqi Plastic Arts and the Union of Iraqi Artists
|1972||Honored at the Al-Wasiti Festival, Baghdad, Iraq |
Accademia Reale, Goldsmiths College in London, Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Baghdad University, Society of the Friends of Art, Impressionist Group, art education, Baghdad, Everyday life in Iraq, Iraqi Museum of Modern Art, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.
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- Watermelon Sellers, 1969
Oil on canvas, 61 x 41 cm
Collection of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah
- Women in a Cafe, 1960
Oil on composition board, 74.8 x 150 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha
- Title unknown, 1928
Oil on canvas, 50.5 x 66.5 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha
- Souq in Baghdad, 1973
Oil on canvas, 118 x 88.5 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha