One of the founders of the New Vision Group (Al-Ru'yya al-Jadidah) established in 1969, Dia Al-Azzawi's oeuvre finds inspiration in encompassing Arab culture in its entirety, tackling themes of pain, death and conflict. A testament to the artist's deep admiration and passion for his own country, Al Wajih al Thani min Khatem al Mahhaba from 1980 incorporates many elements of local cultural traditions linking the visual culture of the past with the present in a magical and mystical composition that compels the viewer to explore the artist's intended underlying meaning.
This work is a direct reference to the hejab al himaya, (a protective talisman), a superstitious tradition that involves men and mostly women acquiring complex talismans in different shapes and forms for a small fee from a locally appointed 'wise man' commonly known as a Sheikh, who does not necessarily have a religious affiliation. Usually comprising of extremely small pieces of parchment or paper, leather, glass or stone that are inscribed with intricate and beautiful executed ciphers, often illegible or religious, it is believed that these amulets would grant the owner the power over the jinn so that they will fulfill his or her desires, most often in the romantic sense, but also to ensure good health, wealth and prosperity.
In the present work, Al-Azzawi references these talismans by incorporating an amalgamation of Arabic letters and non-religious symbols into a composition that is reminiscent of a hejab in itself. The presence of the Arabic letters ha, ayn, sad, meem and waw have positive attributes in Arabic superstition as they are often referred to in literature as the 'letters of the light,' while many of the others hold deep symbolic meaning that have been ascribed over the centuries.
Al-Azzawi also interestingly incorporates the signs of the eye and the snake into his canvas which traditionally in the Orient are symbols meant to ward off the evil eye or bad spirits and people's bad thoughts. Even his choice of a rich turquoise blue references al kharza al zarqa (the blue eye) which many people still hang within their houses to fight off bad luck.
Painted in 1970, Al-Azzawi's work aims to offer a personal commentary on the situation in Iraq at that time, particularly exemplified by his subtle reference to the Euphrates river that appears in the blue passages flowing across the canvas. Frustrated by the impending situation and destruction of the war, the reference to the talisman is two-fold; firstly to conform to the superstitious quality of the good luck the talisman proclaims to be able to achieve, but secondly, as implied by the dark undertone of the title, serves to shed light on the Arab people's stubborn insistence on maintaining archaic old traditions that do not match the developments of modernity. It is as if Al-Azzawi is urging his people to see that the insistence to maintain superstitions that are nonsensical will plunge his beloved Iraq and people into further destruction and despair, which can only be saved by embracing development and grouping together as opposed to hoping that useless amulets and dependence on them will bring forth a change and save them from war and their ultimate demise.