Takween Islami (Islamic Composition) by the illustrious artist Dia Al-Azzawi is thoroughly abundant with the ideas and symbols that the artist takes to heart and that determine his identity not only as an Iraqi and an Arab, but as a universal human being. It is a prime example of his sense of patriotism and the importance of his Iraqi heritage. The work was painted in 1965 in the early stages of the artist’s career, following his completion of his education in both Archaeology and Fine Arts in his hometown of Baghdad. From his studies, his observations and his beliefs, he grew an interest for Iraqi emblems, including talismans carrying good luck and sought to understand and explain their interpretations through his compositions.
Azzawi's academic interest in archaeology led to the incorporation of Mesopotamian and ancient subject matter in his paintings. In his oeuvre, Al-Azzawi skilfully renders the interplay and forms of the letters and symbols of his culture and their mysteries referencing the Sumerian cities that populated Southern Mesopotamia. He thus wonderfully merges the past with the present to subtly expose existential questions using the universal language of symbols. These symbols along with the imaginative style of the composition brilliantly echo the artist’s rich cultural past. A testament to the artist's self-awareness, artistic skill and passion for the rich cultural heritage of Iraq, the present work is a modernist rendition of traditional Iraqi art with a superlative interplay of traditional symbolism.
His strong knowledge of history and archaeology coupled with his high artistic sensitivity were key, in his early works, for painting his surroundings and the elements that characterised his background. His successive works then built up on common details, in a varying unpredictable order, that became iconic to his success.
The preponderant shape in Takween Islami clearly references the dome of a mosque, a reflection of Al-Azzawi’s affinity to Islamic architecture. Two adjacent minarets beautifully surround the mosque whilst the Khamsah or the Eye of Fatima crowns the primitive yet meaningful structure central to the painting. The Khamsah, in the shape of a right hand, is an amulet commonly used in Middle-Eastern and North African accessories and jewellery as a sign of protection against the evil eye. The artist thus expresses himself with the use of a deeply embedded symbolism and in this semi-abstract way, conveys his captivating thought-process.
An earthy colour palette and the recurrent use of black and different shades of brown render this grouping of architectures with simple forms but strong symbolism. This dusty palette showcases Al-Azzawi’s inclication, especially early in his career to implement dusty colours as a way to signify a connection with Iraqi history and roots; it was only later in his oeuvre that Al- Azzawi began using vibrant colours and jagged planes. In Takween Islami, the colours coalesce with a poetic harmony that governs the slightly primeval forms that are combined. The artist’s imagination remarkably merges with what he sees. The symbols seem to appear and disappear with the alternating shadows and dim light.
Building the foundations for his celebrated and revered later works, Takween Islami offers insight into the inner workings and mind of one of the most captivating artists of today.