Dia al-Azzawi is an internationally recognised Iraqi painter and sculptor who has been living and working in London since the late 1970s. Best known for monumental and colourful canvasses, his work spans many genres, including a type of artist books known in Arabic as ‘dafatir’.
A combination of painting and text, dafatir take various forms – accordions, square and oblong booklets, cigar boxes or other sculptural assemblages – but are not meant to be read or viewed in a traditional way. Rather than illustrating the poetry within, which is usually drawn from the pre-Islamic traditions or based on collaborations with contemporary poets, the paintings are free and emotive responses to it.
This exhibition explores the development of dafatir over 40 years of artistic production and considers the evolution of Azzawi’s distinctive pictorial language – a fusion of words and images – which would come to dominate much of his work. Therefore, the installation also includes drawings, prints and a monumental ten-metre tapestry immortalising the impact of war on the city of Mosul and displayed in public for the first time.
An additional display in the Islamic Middle East Gallery 31, designed as a companion display to the Dia al-Azzawi: Painting Poetry exhibition, explores the impact of dafatir on a younger generation of Iraqi artists.
“Dafatir represents an unusual and rather ‘fluid’ artistic genre – neither entirely book nor entirely sculpture. They speak to past traditions such as Islamic illustrated manuscripts, and yet they also fully embrace modern aesthetics and contemporary concerns. As such they have become a thriving space for artistic expression and experimentation, as well as a site for defiance and resilience when produced in reaction to violence and conflict.”
—Dr Francesca Leoni, Exhibition curator
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Dates & times:
This exhibition is open until 11 Jun 2023
Location: Gallery 8
Admission is FREE
Booking is recommended to guarantee entry, but walk-up tickets are available at the Museum.