Glorifying the indefinable qualities of human consciousness through sculpture and paint, Ismail Fattah's work blurs the lines between abstraction and representation. Born in Basra in 1934, Fattah discovered his passion for art, in particular sculpture and painting at an early stage. In 1952 he moved to Baghdad to study at the newly established Institute of Fine Arts where he spent time with many artists including Shaker Hassan Al Said, Kadhim Haidar and Faeq Hassan. His encounter with Jewad Selim discerned in the young Fattah an irrefutable talent for creation and the creative relationship between the two men led Fattah to distinguish himself as an artist with a style that was clearly innovative. Although his focus was mainly in sculpture, artist Dia Al-Azzawi has expressed that Fattah's paintings 'relieved a spiritual tension' in areas where he could not expressively communicate his ideas through three-dimensional form.
Impressive in its monumentality, the present work tackles the artist's fascination with the human figure which continued to be a recurrent theme throughout his oeuvre. Using a colour palette of deep and rich earth-like tones, the rawness of these natural colours echoes the rawness of the pure and nude figures as a symbol of humanity. Although the faces lack features, they are portrayed with a certain stature and composition. By doing so, the artist raises questions about identity in a world that is constantly in search of change. Between abstraction and representation, this work reveals bold and angular lines that are reminiscent of his acclaimed experimentation with sculpture, while evoking a strong sense of spirituality and a delicate serenity.
Undeniably one of the leading figures in the history of Arab art, Ismail Fattah contributed to the change that took place in the Baghdad art scene and is recognised not only for his seemingly naive depictions of faces and figures, but also for his outstanding and monumental sculptures, several of which are currently displayed in the exterior of the Mathaf Museum of Arab and Modern Art in Doha.
Resembling the figures huddled together in the composition of the present work, it is clear that the artist's practice as a sculptor has always had an impact on his drawings and paintings as a source of inspiration. Unlike most Iraqi artists at the time, Fattah moved away from the politically charged depictions of everyday people that reflected the social realities of his time and instead created works that questioned the relationship between man and his surrounding void and thus rendered the inexpressible qualities of human consciousness.