The sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat is justly regarded as one of Iraq's most important and beloved artists. This distinction is clearly attested to by the numerous public monuments that dot the country's cityscapes. Hikmat's monumental sculptures act as memory markers for those who were exiled from Iraq during the turbulent years of sanctions and wars. They also serve as comforting reminders for those who stayed behind. As the sculptor worked within the spirit of tradition, drawing inspiration from Iraq's multifaceted heritage, his pieces have become emblematic of the nation itself. Indeed, Iraq, specifically Baghdad, held a significant place in Hikmat's art practice. As a result, Hikmat himself has become a signifier of the historic city and is remembered as one of its greatest treasures.
In 1953, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat graduated from the Institute of Fine Art in Baghdad. He then travelled to Rome to train at the Accademia di Belle Arti, graduating in 1959. While in Italy, he also studied metals at the Instituto di Zaka in Florence, specializing in casting bronze. He subsequently taught sculpture at the Baghdad Institute of Fine Art and the College of Architectural Engineering at the University of Baghdad.
During his career, Hikmat was a prolific creator and exhibitor, and an active participant in the growing Iraqi art scene. He held several solo shows in Rome, San Remo, London, Beirut, and Baghdad. He also participated in most major national exhibitions in Iraq. He was a member of the Society of the Friends of Art and later the az-Zawiya group headed by Faiq Hassan. Significantly, Hikmat was also an influential member of the Baghdad Group of Modern Art (BGMA). Founded by his teachers and friends, Jewad Selim and Shakir Hassan Al-Said, the BGMA was arguably the most important artist society in modern Iraq and was dedicated to the idea that Iraq's heritage held a preeminent place within its modern art practice.
Hikmat embraced these ideals within his own work, drawing subject matter and stylistic inspiration from medieval Islamic art and literature, as well as from Mesopotamian figuration. A number of his most famous works represent subjects from the well-known collection of Arab folktales, One Thousand and One Nights. One such work is The Fountain of Kahramana that depicts the heroine pouring oil into jars occupied by a number of Ali Baba's forty thieves. Another is the sculptural duet of Scheherazade and Shahrayar (1971). In this representation of the main characters of 1001 Nights, the figures are rendered with robust monumentality and strong, sinuous forms that harken back to Assyrian statuary.
The sculptor is also known for his smaller statues carved in wood. The people of Baghdad were a major theme of these carvings. Many of these renderings were of women in the traditional Iraqi Abaya clutching children, which was indicative of Hikmat's exploration of motherhood as an artistic theme. Yet others were low relief scenes of Iraqi daily life. All of these were executed in a simplified, abstracted manner that referenced the shapes of Baghdadi graves and tombstones. He continued his exploration of these shapes in wood for the remainder of his long career. His fascination with the human form also endured as the artist's homage to Renaissance humanism.
Along with his own art production, Hikmat also assisted in major public works initiated by other prominent members of the artistic community. Foremost among them was Jewad Selim's Monument of Freedom for which Hikmat assisted and supervised the casting process in Florence. He also took over the project when Selim died prematurely in 1961. Another project was the much contested Arch of Victory which stood for decades as a symbol of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Hikmat completed the massive installation when its original sculptor Khalid al-Rahal passed away in 1987. Despite the connection to the Hussein regime, any plans to dismantle the installation are still being hotly debated.
In 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, Hikmat left for Amman, Jordan where he continued to work. In Amman, the sculptor often played host to prominent musicians, writers, and artists. Although the Jordanian capital provided him with a haven, as it did for many other Iraqi cultural figures, Hikmat always felt a strong pull towards his birthplace, often referring to Baghdad as a beautiful woman. He returned to Baghdad directly after the invasion to find his home much changed. Typical of the cultural destruction sustained in Baghdad was the defacement of Hikmat's prized monument, Scheherazade and Shahrayar, as looters cut off the king's left hand. The sculptor mourned over the destruction of other public sculptures that he had worked so diligently to complete. These were statues that could not be replaced. He also had to come to terms with the disappearance of close to 150 of his own works, representing the breadth of his career, after the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art was looted.
Hikmat, acutely aware of his role as a protector of Iraq's cultural past and present, began a campaign to recover art works that had been looted. He founded the Committee for Recovering Iraq's Culture with the aim of buying back works that had surfaced on underground markets. Through these efforts, he was able to recover at least 100 works, including Jewad Selim's Motherhood in 2003. In this, Hikmat became a mobilizing force amongst his students and colleagues in the preservation of Iraq's cultural heritage.
His second return to Iraq, in 2010, was at the behest of the mayor of Baghdad who wished to commission the sculptor to complete a series of monuments for the city. Hikmat agreed and began work on four new sculptures to be erected in various sites in Baghdad. This was to be Hikmat's last project, yet the sculptor would not live to see it come to fruition. To the sorrow of many, Mohammad Ghani Hikmat passed away September 12th, 2011 after suffering from kidney failure at the age of 82. His son is overseeing the completion of the monuments that Hikmat began working on before his death.
Hikmat had a strict work ethic that reflected his dedication to art making. To a far greater extent than most Iraqi artists, Hikmat was a public figure who completed work on a large scale for urban communities to appreciate. The tireless sculptor has been described by his friends and critics as vibrant and dynamic with unending energy and enthusiasm. He is seen as an icon of Iraqi modern art and an important advocate for its preservation.
|2013 ||Crossing Generations: A Selection of Emirati and Arab Contemporary Art from the ADMAF Art Collection, US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF), Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates|
|2011||Exhibition at the CAB Gallery, Amman, Jordan|
|2009||Iraqi Art, Foresight32 Gallery, Amman, Jordan|
|_____||Modernism and Iraq, Columbia University, New York, United States of America |
|1967||Exhibition of the Az-Zawiya (The Angle) group, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1958-2011||Held numerous solo exhibitions in Rome, Italy; San Remo, Italy; London, United Kingdom; Beirut, Lebanon and New York, the United States of America |
|1951-1990s ||All major national exhibitions, Baghdad, Iraq |
Awards and Honors
|2002||Appreciation Prize, the Arab League|
|1994||Lebanese State Prize, Ministry of Culture, Rashana, Lebanon|
|1964||Gulbenkian Prize, Best Iraqi Sculpture, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1959||Appreciation Prize, Mayor of Rome, Rome, Italy|
|_____||Appreciation Prize, Universal Exhibition, Via Margutta, Rome|
Iraqi Modern Art, sculpture, Baghdad, public monuments, Baghdad Group of Modern Art, Az-Zawiya Group, looting and destruction of art works, Society of the Friends of Art, heritage, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Committee for Recovering Iraq's Culture, Monument of Freedom, Arch of Victory, Scheherazade and Shahrayar.
Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainsville: Florida University Press, 1997.
Aziz, Barbara Nimri. "Notes from Iraq: Barbara Nimri Aziz remembers sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat." AhramOnline. September 21, 2011. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/5/25/21999/Arts--Culture/Visual-Art/Notes-from-Iraq-BarbaraNimri-Aziz-remembers-sculp.aspx
Faraj, Maysaloun, ed. Strokes of genius: Contemporary Iraqi art. London: Saqi Books, 2001.
Jabra, Jabra I. The Grass Roots of Iraqi Art. Jersey: Wasit Graphic and Publishing Limited, 1983.
"Mohammed Ghani Hikmet." Meemartgallery.com. Last modified January 2014. http://meemartgallery.com/art_exhibiting.php?id=57
Mudaffar, May. "Iraq." In Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, edited by Wijdan Ali. Amman: The Royal Society of Fine Arts, Essex, England: Scorpion Publishing, 1989.
Schmidt, Michael S. "Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, Iraqi Sculptor, Dies at 82," New York Times. September 21, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/21/arts/design/mohammed-ghani-hikmat-iraqi-sculptor-dies-at-82.html
____________. "Farewell Mohammed Ghani Hikmat." Jadaliyya. September 13, 2011. Accessed June 4, 2014. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/2641/farewell-mohammad-ghani-hikmat.
Bahrani, Zainab and Nada Shabout. Modernism and Iraq. New York: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University Press, 2009.
Inati, Shams C, ed. Iraq: Its History, People, and Politics. New York: Humanity Books, 2003.
Merzaban, Daliah, ed. Re:Orient: Invesitgating Modernism in the Arab World 1950s-'70s. United Arab Emirates: Barjeel Art Foundation, 2013. Modern Art Iraq Archive. http://artiraq.org. Last modified January 2014. http://artiraq.org/maia/
"Mohammed Ghani Hikmat." YouTube.com. Last Modified December 6, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ405x0P0hQ
Pocock, Charles. Modern Iraqi Art: A Collection. Dubai: Meem Gallery, 2013.
Shabout, Nada. Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art. Exhibition catalogue. Doha: Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar Museum Authority, 2010.