Internationally recognised as one of the pioneers of Modern Iraqi art, Dia Al-Azzawi's ability to transcribe his native cultural sensitivity and appreciation into his oeuvre has captivated the attention of collectors, art appreciators and institutions alike. Al-Azzawi started his artistic career in 1964 having studied in the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad following a degree in archaeology which continues to have a profound impact on his art.
In 1969 Al-Azzawi formed the New Vision Group (al-Ru'yya al-Jadidah), which united artists through their ideology and cultural thinking as opposed to the stylistic link that was characteristic of the Baghdad Modern Art Group established by Jewad Selim and Shaker Hassan Al Said many years before. Broadening their inspiration to encompass Arab culture in its entirety, Al-Azzawi's works began to tackle themes of pain, death and conflict, linking the visual culture of the past with the present.
Upon his immigration to London in the 1970s and his reintroduction to collections of Islamic manuscripts and poetry that were found in museum collections there, Al-Azzawi continued to explore the connection of the written word, the visualisation of the Arabic language and painting. Al-Azzawi's involvement with poetry was by no means a new concept in the 1970s; he had, for example, created a series of drawings in the 1960s based on the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic. However, his series of works in the 1970s took on a more mature and reflective stance on poetry particularly following the political events in Iraq and his personal experience in the military service.
Amtaddu Ilayki (I Reach to You), painted in 1972, is a captivating example from a series of works Al-Azzawi created in the 1970s as a tribute to Waddah Al-Yemen, a famous poet (considered to be the national poet of Yemen) who was born in the second half of the 7th century. The most famous story tells of his love affair with the wife of Caliph Al-Walid I who was based in Damascus.
The fable recounts the story of a page who was sent to the Queen's room at the request of the Caliph, only to fnd the Queen hiding Waddah in a trunk. Having been informed of this discovery by the page, the Caliph approached his wife and asked her to gift him the trunk which she refused on the basis that she kept her day to day things in it. At the Caliph's insistence the Queen eventually gave it to him and he consequently buried the trunk under the floor of the audience chamber, leaving Waddah to die while still inside of it.
In the present lot, Al-Azzawi recreates the scene where Waddah is captured in the trunk, his distorted figure contained within the confines of a black boxlike shape beneath the beige layer of the floor. He appears to be attempting to reach out of the trunk - implying a sense of yearning and longing - that is
implicated in the title of the work. Characteristically, Al-Azzawi has chosen to depict this figure in a mannerism deeply rooted in Sumerian visual lexicons, particularly of Sumerian fertility symbols. What results is an interplay of lines and colours, signs and disproportionate depictions of human body form that is akin to the Cubist manner. The concentration of shapes and colours within the vast beige background of the canvas emanates a deep sense of passion and emotion that renders Amtaddu Ilayki (I Reach to You) an entrancing example of Al-Azzawi's work.