Born in Samawah, Iraq, in 1925, Shakir Hassan Al Said studied social sciences at Baghdad's Higher Institute of Teachers, obtaining his BA in 1948. He initially worked as a teacher of Social Sciences at Malak Secondary Education, the Ministry of Education from 1949 to 1954 before studying painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and teaching art education later on. After his graduation in 1954, he received state scholarships to pursue his studies abroad. From 1955 to 1959, he studied painting and art history in Paris, at the Académie Julien, the École des Arts Décoratifs, and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. On his return to Baghdad, he taught art history at the Institute of Fine Arts from 1970 to 1980, and also taught painting and art history at the Institute of Art Education in Saudi Arabia from 1968 to 1969. From 1980 to 1983, he headed the Department of Aesthetic Studies at the Ministry of Culture and Information. In 1992, he worked as a counselor at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in Amman, Jordan. In 1994, he founded the symposium of Aesthetic Discourse at the Saddam Art Center in Baghdad. Al Said was also a Member of the National Committee League of Art Critics, the Iraqi Artists Syndicate, the Society of Iraqi Plastic Artists and the Iraqi Teachers' Syndicate. He stayed in Baghdad until his death in 2004.
Al Said was a prolific and influential artist. He was a founding member of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art (Jama'at Baghdad lil-Fann al-Hadith) in 1951, together with Jewad Selim and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, and the One Dimension Group (al-Bu'd al-Wahid) in 1971. He wrote art manifestoes for both groups, in addition to his contemplative manifesto (al-Bayan al-Ta'ammuli) published in the cultural supplement of the Iraqi daily al-Jumhuriyyah in 1966. The manifesto he wrote for the Baghdad Group for Modern Art in 1951 was the first art manifesto of its kind in Iraq. It was read out at the group's inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Ancient Costumes in Baghdad – an event that is considered by some the true birth of modern art in Iraq. The manifesto gives voice to the group's commitment to both heritage and modernity. Its emphasis on the culture of the region drew inspiration from Islamic art, particularly al-Wasiti's thirteenth century miniature paintings, but also from products of popular culture such as traditional carpets, as well as from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. This entailed Arab artists distancing themselves from the previous course of modern art in the Arab world, which was perceived as following European models, and setting out to ground modern art more firmly in a local context. It marks a re-orientation in art that coincided with radical political change and the growth of Arab nationalism.
With the One Dimension Group, Al Said developed his theoretical approach to art further. The group was interested in the Arabic letter as a formal element in modern art, as stated by Al Said in the group's manifesto. The group held exhibitions in the early 1970s but then lost its influence as the incorporation by artists of Arabic letters into their works, sometimes referred to as al-hurufiyyah al-'arabiyyah (Arabic letterism), came to be a widely adopted practice. Al Said's interest in Arabic letters was not limited to their shape and orthography; rather, it was an integral part of his vision of an aesthetics of the trace, the wear and tear of life and marks left by time, as the cracks and fissures in his carefully textured wall paintings demonstrate.
Al Said's early paintings show an affinity to European avant-garde art movements, such as expressionism and cubism, and especially to the work of Paul Klee, but also draw on Arabic-Islamic heritage and popular culture. Mixing figurative and abstract elements, they are divided by grid-like patterns into different fields of bright color. His artistic practices, though, changed when he turned his attention to Sufism in the 1960s. It was in this context that he produced his many untitled wall paintings dominated by earth tones, in which the Arabic letter figures prominently as a formal element in the composition of an abstract painting. Calligraphy is of vital importance in the Sufi tradition, and the letter "waw," which recurs in Al Said's paintings, has aroused particular attention. As Annemarie Schimmel has pointed out in her book Calligraphy and Islamic Culture (1984), the letter "waw" which often stands for the conjunction "and" is recurrent in the definition/concept of faith in Islam, namely the "belief in God, AND his Angels, AND his Books, AND his Messengers, AND Destiny, be it good or bad." Accordingly, the sequence of "waws" can be read as symbolizing the connotations inherent in "ash-Shahadah" or "the profession of faith." Al Said borrows elements of Islamic calligraphy but places them in a contemporary context. Linked to popular and spontaneous expressions, his paintings make use of Arabic writing in the form of mural inscriptions, graffiti, and signs scribbled on a city wall. As such, they can be compared to those of the Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies, to whom Al Said referred explicitly in his writings.
Al Said published several books on modern art in Iraq and numerous articles in Arabic journals and newspapers. He is recognized today as one of the fathers of modern art in Iraq. His influence as an artist, a teacher, and a forerunner of art historical and theoretical writing in the Arab world has been great but has yet to be fully studied and documented.
His work is held in numerous private and public collections, among them the Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, the British Museum, London, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha.
Selected Solo exhibitions
|Shakir Hassan Al Said: The Wall, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha. Curated by Abdellah Karroum|
Bissan Gallery, Doha, Qatar
|_____||Dar al-Anda, Amman, Jordan|
|01||Retrospective, Athar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1999 ||1990s works of art, Athar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1998 ||Doubles and Allusions, Al Riwaq Art Space, Manama, Bahrain|
|1998 ||Doubles and Allusions, Arts Gallery, Tunis, Tunisia|
|1997||French Cultural Centre, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1996 ||Double and One Dimension paintings, French Cultural Centre, Baghdad, Iraq|
|____ ||50x70 Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon|
|1994 ||Honorary Exhibition, Saddam Art Center, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1992 ||Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan|
|1980 ||Iraqi Cultural Centre, Beirut, Lebanon|
|1979||An exhibition with Naja Al-Mahdawi, Iraqi Cultural Centre, Beirut, Lebanon |
|1978 ||Sultan Gallery, Kuwait|
|1974||Reflective Visions, The National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1966||Reflections and Ascensions, The National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1961 ||Institute of Fine arts Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1954 ||Institute of Fine Arts Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq|
Selected Group exhibitions
|2015||Exhibition 555, Garage Gallery, the Fire Station, Doha, Qatar|
|2010 ||Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar|
|2003||Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates |
|1997||Environment, Surrounding and Ecology in Iraqi Art, Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan|
|1996 ||The Fifth One Dimension Group exhibition, Abaad Gallery, Amman, Jordan|
|1994||The Forth One Dimension Group exhibition, Abaad Gallery, Amman, Jordan|
|1988||Intimacy of Signs, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France|
|1986||New Delhi Triennial, India|
|1979||The 15th Sao Paolo Biennial, Brazil|
|1977 ||Arab Art Exhibition, Iraqi Cultural Centre, London, United Kingdom|
|1976||Venice Biennial, Italy|
|1975||Festival Cannes sur Mer, France|
|1971||Participated in the first and subsequent exhibitions of the One Dimension Group, The National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1951 ||Participated in the first and subsequent exhibitions of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, Museum of Ancient Costumes, Baghdad, Iraq|
Awards and Honors
|1987||SIPA and UIA honorary Achievement Awards|
|1986||Saddam Prize for Arts|
|1981, 1986 ||First Prize International Festival, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1975 ||National Appreciation Prize, Cagne-sur-Mer International Festival, France|
|____ ||Award for artistic and theoretical achievements, the Arab Artists Association|
Iraq, Modern Art, Abstract Art, Painting, Art History and Theory, Baghdad Group for Modern Art, One Dimension Group.
Al-Bahloly, Saleem. "Shakir Hassan Al Said," in Meem Projects 2013: Part 1: Modern Arab Art, Part 2: Letters in Art, eds. Charles Pocock, Samar Faruqi, and Noura Haggag. Dubai: Meem Editions, 2013.
Al-Kassab, Said. "Mu'assasat al-Khitaab al-Jamaali: Marji'iyaat at-Ta'seel fi l-Fann al-Iraqi al-Hadeeth" (Symposium of Aesthetic Discourse: Benchmarking Roots in The Modern Iraqian Art). Beirut: Dar Kutub li-n-Nashr, 20
Dagher, Charbel. "Shakir Hassan Al Said, Untitled (The Wall)," in Meem Projects 2013: Part 1: Modern Arab Art, Part 2: Contemporary Arab Art – How Do You Sleep at Night? eds. Charles Pocock, Samar Faruqi, and Noura Haggag. Dubai: Meem Editions, 2013.
Nadir, Souhail Sami. "A la Recherche de la Trace," in Croisement de Signes. Edited by Mohamed Metalsi. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1989.
Schimmel, Annemarie. Calligraphy and Islamic Culture. New York: New York University Press, 1984.
Shabout, Nada. Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2007.
Shakrun, Nazar. "Shakir Hassan Al Said wa Nazariat Al-Fan Al-Arabi" (Shakir Hassan Al Said and the Theory of Arabic Art). Beirut: Ad-Dar L-Arabia Lil Ulum, 2010
Yussef, Faruq. "Siret Al-Lamar'ee Fi ar-Rasm, Min Said Ila Himat" (Biography of The Invisible, From Said to Himat). Amman: Al-Muassasa l-Arabia Lil-Dirasat wa N-Nashr, 2010.
Selection writings on art by Shakir Hassan Al Said "Ana n-Noqtah Fawqa fa'i l-Harf" (I am the point above fa' of letter). Baghdad, 1998.
"Al-Bayaanaat l-Fanniyyah fil Iraq" (Art Manifestos in Iraq). Baghdad: Ministry of Culture and Information, 1973.
"Diraasaat Ta'ammuliyyah" (Contemplative studies). Beirut: Dar al-Jamal, 2006.
"Al Fann t-Tashkeelee al-Iraqi al-Mu'aser" (The Contemporary Iraqi Plastic Art). Tunis: The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), 1992.
In collaboration with Majed Saleh as-Samaraa'i, "Hiwar al-Fann t-Tashkeeli: Muhadaraat wa Nadawaat hawla Jawaneb mina th-Thaqaafah at-Tashkeeliyyah wa 'Alaqatuhaa bil Funun al-Arabiyyah wal-'Islamiyyah" (Dialogue of the Plastic Art: Lectures and Seminars on Aspects of the Plastic Culture and its Relationship with the Arabic and Islamic Arts). Amman: Darat Al Funun, Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, 1995.
Al Said, Shakir Hassan. "Fusul min Taareekh al-Harakah at-Tashkeeliyah fi l-Iraq" (Episodes from Plastic Movement's History in Iraq). Baghdad: Ministry of Culture and Information, 1983.
Al Said, Shakir Hassan. "Al-Hurriyyah fil Fann" (Freedom in Art). Beirut, Amman: al-Mu'assasah l-Arabiyyah lid-Diraasaat wa n-Nashr, Dar al-Fares Li n-Nashr wa t-Tawzi'a, 1975 and 1994.
Al Said, Shakir Hassan. "Jewad Selim: al-Fannan wa al-'Akharun" (Jewad Selim: The Artist and the Others). Baghdad: ad-Dar al-'Ammah li-sh-Shu'un th-Thaqafiyyah, Ministry of Culture, 1991.
Shabout, Nada. “Shakir Hassan Al Said: A Journey towards the
One-dimention.” Universes-in-Universe, Nafas, May 2008. Accessed July 27, 2015.