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Modern Arab Masters - Grosvenor Gallery

Dia Azzawi, Islamic Compositions, 1966

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION entitled Modern Arab Masters will be on display at the Grosvenor Gallery from September 27 to October 12, 2012.

This will be Grosvenor Gallery’s inaugural show of modern Middle Eastern art, and is due to coincide with the series of Islamic and Indian art auctions in London at the beginning of October.

The exhibition comprises a number of important Iraqi and Syrian paintings from private collections, many of which have not been exhibited before. Due to the unique nature of the exhibition, it is set to be the only showing of such material in London this year.

Paintings by pioneer Iraqi artists such as Issam el-Said, Faek Hassan and Jamil Hammoudi will be displayed alongside works by renowned Syrian artists Fateh Moudarres and Nazir Nabaa.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a rare and important work by Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi titled Islamic Compositions. Executed in 1966, this oil on canvas was part of the touring exhibition Carreras Craven ‘A’, Arab Art Exhibition in 1967.

The Carreras exhibition was the first time a large group show of paintings by modern Arab artists had been displayed in the West, when works by artists from seven Arab countries were exhibited in London, Paris and Rome. The exhibition also visited Cairo, Manama, Kuwait, Baghdad, Amman, Damascus and Beirut, on a tour which lasted until August 1967.

Hashim Samarji, Composition of Sights, 1966

Another important painting also exhibited at the Carreras show is Hashim Samarji’s 1966 diptych Composition of Sights. This vibrant work painted in hues of red and orange won the award for the Iraqi section of the exhibition, a major accolade at the time.

Samarji’s work was described by Hugh Scrutton, chairman of the Carreras exhibition awards committee, as ‘one of the best paintings in the exhibition. It presents us with a sort of magic head: a monster perhaps from the far Assyrian past, but emerging as a pure 20th century image.’

Two important paintings by Issam el-Said also feature in the exhibition, one of which is an early abstract painting from 1961 titled Sodom and Gomorrah, which appeared in the artist’s first one-man show at London’s Woodstock Gallery in 1962. The other, a work from 1983, features the artist’s characteristic geometric forms and symbols against which are set two female figures.

A trio of typically vibrant works by Fateh Moudarres are also part of the exhibition. Moudarres was heavily influenced by his Syrian heritage and his works are characterised by the incorporation of stylistic themes influenced by Assyrian statuary, which are executed in earthy tones of red, brown and ochre.

Charles Moore, the exhibition’s curator, comments: ‘We hope this exhibition displays the quality and diversity of material produced by a large number of Arab artists during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. To be able to display two works from the first group exhibition of Arab art to tour Europe is a wonderful and rare privilege.’

Gallery Hours: Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm, Saturdays 12noon to 4pm.

Grosvenor Gallery, 21 Ryder Street, London, SW1Y 6PX

Tel: +44 (0)20 7484 7979


The Tate Modern recently acquired for their permanent collection a large and important work by Dia Azzawi titled Sabra and Shatila. The piece is a monumental work on paper inspired by the massacre of Palestinians living in the refugee camp in Syria in 1982.