Salim al-Dabbagh, the renowned Iraqi painter and printmaker, is one of a generation of artists who enriched the progress of modern art movements in Iraq dating back to the mid-1960s. Born and raised in Mosul in 1941, al-Dabbagh developed a love for the traditions of his hometown, a love which soon metamorphosed into a cultural pursuit. From 1958 to 1961, al-Dabbagh studied at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. He was trained by a number of prominent modern Iraqi artists, including Jewad Selim, Faiq Hassan, Ismail al-Shaikhly and Khalid al-Rahhal. After obtaining his degree in painting, al-Dabbagh continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad from 1961 to 1965 where he was a member of the first graduating class. The faculty included modernist artists Roman Artymowski from Poland who worked with engraving and printmaking, and Burkow Lazsky from Yugoslavia, known for his mural paintings. Though trained in purely classical and realistic artistic techniques, al-Dabbagh and some of his fellow students manifested their initial daring attempts to experiment with semi-geometric compositions and artistic abstraction.
The Iraqi art critic May Muzaffar states that al-Dabbagh had no established relationship with art in his childhood. However, when he came across some photographs of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, he became fascinated, if not entranced, with their aesthetic features. Nominating Van Gogh his first "master," al-Dabbagh's delved into the unknown, a new world that paved the way for his artistic journey.
Adopting an audacious attitude towards creativity and experimentation with abstraction, al-Dabbagh was one of the founders of the "Innovative Group" of artists in 1965, inaugurating it with his first exhibition in which he presented a number of abstract paintings. Along with al-Dabbagh, the "Innovative Group" included Ali Talib, Saleh al-Jumaiei, Taleb Makki, Nedaa Kazim, Faiq Hassan, Sobhi al-Jarjafji and Taher Jamil. They all participated in their first collective exhibition which was held at the National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad. One year later, Amer Al-Obaidi, Khaled al-Na'ib and Ibrahim Zayer joined the "Innovative Group," and participated in their second collective exhibition at the Iraqi Artists Association in Baghdad. In response to the June 1967 Naksah (crisis), the "Innovative Group" participated in a collective exhibition of political posters entitled "Resistance," declaring an "intifaadah"(uprising) against what was believed to be "old traditions and concepts." This was the last show organized by the group as most of its members soon afterwards travelled to pursue their education overseas. In 1966, al-Dabbagh received an Honors award from the Leipzig International Art Exhibition on Acrylic Art, Germany. In 1967, he was one of three Iraqi artists, along with Hashim Samerchi and Rafa Nasiri, to be nominated by the Iraqi Artists Association (IAA) to receive a two-year scholarship granted by the Gulbenkian Foundation to study graphic design at the Gravura Atelier in Lisbon, Portugal.
In 1968, al-Dabbagh, Rafa Nasiri and Hashim Samerchi participated in a collective exhibition of paintings in Lisbon, Portugal, and later in other exhibitions on graphic design in 1971 and 1988.Upon their return, each of these artists held a solo exhibition and other collective graphic exhibitions, highlighting modern compositions in etching and lithographs at the Iraqi Artists Society, and also at the Lopliana Biennial in Yugoslavia in 1969. This marked the beginning of the development of graphic art in Iraq, gaining much interest for it in the region, and gradually paving the way to international graphic exhibitions.
Among his sources of his inspiration, al-Dabbagh notes his fascination with the facades of the 'Kaabah', and its square form in particular, on his first visit to Saudi Arabia. The sight of women weaving Bedouin tents from 'al-wabar' (goat hair) which he perceived as an iconic cultural element, equally captivated him. "In my childhood, on my way to school, I used to see how women weaved tents in the streets," he said. Later on, al-Dabbagh, utilized 'al-wabar' as an medium in his artwork. "I borrowed it from nature and used it to create aesthetic features," he explained.
Al-Dabbagh's large-scale wooden panels and canvases depict essence rather than form. A first encounter with his artwork suggests the predominance of black and white, hence his use of mono-colors for which he is known. In fact, al-Dabbagh admits his fondness for black and white films over color ones. However, after a deeper contemplation of his work, his quest for abstract expression becomes apparent. To tackle essence, al-Dabbagh resorts to a variety of aesthetic traits such as shades, shapes, thin lines, tones mainly black and white, and volume. In order to break from the monotonous harmony, his drawings allow a counter color, a technique which attempts to enhance a celebration of internal connections and intersections. At times, a tiny beam of shapeless green and/or red occupies the most discrete space or inconspicuous corner in his large scale paintings, while a square, a cube or a triangle appears in others, or some black lines intrude into the white surface. However, the endless black and white nuanced layers invite confusion as well as interpretation; perhaps those layers attempt to narrate a life experience, be it sad or happy, or a story around tents from his hometown. Al-Dabbagh drew his inspiration from traditional jewelry for his use of vibrant red and green colors.
Moreover, al-Dabbagh has the ability to manipulate spaces through which he expresses numerous realities. He achieves this result through the fragmentation of the dense surface amid a series of levels of tonalities that embody the notion of endless "space." His style highlights an intricate interplay between the dimensions of surface and "space." "It is mass not a large empty space." It is mass through which the artist chooses to experiment with his themes of "beauty, love and freedom." He explains: "beauty can be found in mass, in the tent, everywhere…the white mass became predominant compared to black mass." Despite changes in his approach to media throughout his artistic journey, al-Dabbagh has remained faithful to the narrative themes around which his artwork revolves. He meticulously presents realities through an intricate interplay between the objective and the subjective, the seen and the unseen, and the visual and the intended meaning. Though silently and symbolically articulated, these realities submerge the surfaces of his large canvases in the forms of endless mass and nuanced layers.
In 2000, His Excellency Sheikh Hassan Bin Khalifa Al Thani sponsored artists' residencies, a program which provided Iraqi artists in particular with a physical space for artistic experimentation during the period of the "enforced debilitating sanctions of the 1990s." These Iraqi artists included Ibrahim el-Salahi, Dia Azzawi, Ismail Fattah, Nazar Yahya, Ala Bashir, Mahmoud Al-Obaidi, Saadi al-Kaabi and Shakir Hassan Al Said. Artwork created during these residencies was part of Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art Exhibition, held at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar in 2010. Al-Dabbagh's work was featured at several international events and exhibitions, including the Iraqi Contemporary Art Exhibition in Dubai In 2008. He participated in several one-man shows in Baghdad during 1995 - 1998.
Al-Dabbagh has worked as an art and graphic design professor and served as head of the Graphic Department at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad from 1971 to 2000. He then worked at the Iraqi Fashion House as an art expert. He currently devotes his time to work on his art in his atelier in Baghdad.
|2010 ||Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art Exhibition, Doha, Qatar|
|2008||Iraqi Contemporary Art Exhibition, Dubai, United Arab Emirates |
|2005 ||Traces, The Orfali Art gallery, Amman, Jordan|
|1995 - 1998||One Man shows, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1993 ||The Exhibition of Contemporary Iraqi Artists at Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan |
|_____||The collective exhibition of three Iraqi Artists: Himat Mohammed Ali, Kareem Risan and Salim al-Dabbagh at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Amman, Jordan|
|1990 ||A joint exhibition with the Iraqi artist Saadi Abbas, Kuwait|
|_____||A collective exhibition of Seven Iraqi Artists including Ismail Fattah, Mohammed Muhraddin, Ali Talib, and Saadi al-Kaabi at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Amman, Jordan|
|1989 ||Baghdad Paris Painting Exhibition (between Tigris and Euphrates) institute of the Arab World, Paris, France|
|1988 ||The Second International Fine Arts Festival of Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq |
|1986 ||The First International Festival of Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq|
|_____||Norway Biennial, Norway|
|1979 ||Festival International de la Peinture de Cannes-sur-Mer Festival, France|
|1978 ||The Lisbon Design Festival, Portugal |
|1972 ||Sultan Gallery, Kuwait |
|_____||Solo exhibitions, Lisbon, Portugal and Beirut, Lebanon |
|1971 ||2nd International Print Biennial, Buenos Aires Biennial, Argentina|
|_____||Graphic exhibitions, London, United Kingdom|
|1970 ||La Biennale Internationale de Gravure Contemporaine de Liège, Belgium|
Awards and Honors
|1986 ||Inter Graphic in Berlin in East Germany |
|1985 ||Miro Picasso Award Baghdad Madrid|
|1980 ||Inter Graphic in Berlin in East Germany|
|1978 ||The Golden Sail Award in Kuwait |
|1966 ||The Leipzig International Art Exhibition on Acrylic Art, Germany|
Artist residency at Mathaf, bayt al-Sha'ar, Innovative Group, mass, modern art movements in Iraq, printmaker.
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ياعراق: مرحبا يا عراق، جئت غنيك وبعض من الغناء بكاء. تنظيم ورعاية مؤسسة سلطان بن علي العويس الثقافية والمتحف: المتحف العربي للفن الحديث وبنك دبي الوطني، 1994.
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Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA). http://artiraq.org/maia/collections/show. Hosted by the Alexandria Archive Institute. “Salim Al-Dabbagh: Archive.” Accessed September 29, 2013. http://artiraq.org/maia/items/browse?search=Salim+Al+Dabbagh&submit_search=Search