Mahmoud Sabri (1927-2012)
This summer (25th June – 6th July) a very unique and special exhibition will be held in London: ‘Mahmoud Sabri; a retrospective’. Mahmoud Sabri (1927-2012) was one of the leading artists from Iraq, for many one of ‘the big three’ who were crucial for the Iraqi modern art movement, as mentioned by the Iraqi artist Ali Assaf (Rome), in the introduction of ‘Acqua Ferita’ (‘Wounded Water’), the catalogue of the Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Biennial of 2011 (see also here on this blog). Unless the other two, Jewad Selim and Shakir Hassan al-Said (also discussed a few times on this blog, like here) the role of Mahmoud Sabri seems almost being erased from history. In most literature he isn’t even mentioned, or at least as a footnote, without showing one of his works. Also for me it was not easy to find a proper reproduction of one of his works, till around 2010, when his daughter Yasmin Sabri (working as a computer scientist based in London) launched a website with many of his works and writings.
The main reason that Sabri seems to be forgotten is that he was a dissident of the regime of the Ba’thparty from the very first moment. When the Ba’thists for the first time came to power, in 1963 , Sabri wrote a manifesto in which he stipulated the fascist nature of the new regime. Immediately after he went into exile. For decades he lived in Prague, during the years of the Cold War, so out of sight of Western critics and exhibition-makers, who started gradually to pay some interest in the modern art of the Middle East. Also later he became for many too much an outsider or exile, to be discussed in the history of the modern art movement of Iraq or the Middle East in general. Although he lived the last decade of his live in London, where many initiatives took place in the field of contemporary art of the Middle East, both in literature as in several exhibitions, his importance for the Iraqi modern art and contemporary art wasn’t really recognised.
He was never forgotten by many Iraqi artists. Very often I heard, when I was interviewing the Iraqi artists in exile here in the Netherlands, that Sabri was one of the greatest pioneers and an important key-figure, in pushing the Iraqi modern art forward. Many of them consider Sabri as a symbolic teacher and a source of inspiration. For example, when in 2000 thirty Iraqi artists, based in the Netherlands, came together to held a group exhibition in The Hague, they dedicated this initiative to Mahmoud Sabri.
For me it is a great pleasure to announce this wonderful initiative by Yasmin Sabri and Lamice el-Amari, professor theatre studies based in Berlin, also on my site. Later this month I will visit this exhibition myself and will write an extensive article on Mahmoud Sabri, in which I also will discuss this exhibition.
Mahmoud Sabri, 97 percent Human
Mahmoud Sabri – A Retrospective
An exhibition of the pioneering Iraqi artist Mahmoud Sabri
25th June – 6th July
The exhibition features the work of the pioneering Iraqi artist Mahmoud Sabri (1927 – 2012) and takes us through his lifetime journey, from his early work that reflected the suffering of the Iraqi people to his pursuit of a new form of art that represented the atomic level of reality revealed by modern science which he termed “Quantum Realism”.
At the age of forty, Sabri started working on the relationship between art and science, and its link to social development. In 1971 he published his Manifesto of the New Art of Quantum Realism (QR). QR is the application of the scientific method in the field of art and graphically represents the complex processes in nature. In his words, “Art is now the last area of human activity to which the scientific method is still not applied”.
His Quantum Realism collection is displayed for the first time in the UK. The exhibition presents a unique opportunity to see a comprehensive collection of Sabri’s work spanning over 4 decades.
Mahmoud Sabri was born in Baghdad in 1927, he studied social sciences at Loughborough University in the late forties. While in England, his interest in painting developed and he attended evening art classes. Following university, he worked in banking and at the early age of 32 he became the deputy head of the largest national bank in Iraq, the Al-Rafidain Bank. He resigned from the bank to take the responsibility for establishing the first Exhibitions Department in Iraq and to set up the first international exhibition in Baghdad in 1960. Following that, he decided to focus on painting, resigned from his job and went to study art academically at the Surikov Institute for Art in Moscow 1961-1963. After the Baathist coup d’état in Iraq (1963), he moved to Prague to join the Committee for the Defence of the Iraqi People. His paintings during that period reflected the suffering of the Iraqi people under that regime. From the late 60s he started working on Quantum Realism and continued to develop it until his death in April 2012 in the UK.
Mahmoud Sabri was a member of the Iraqi Avant-garde artists group. He was a founder member of the Society of Iraqi Artists. He had several publications on art, philosophy and politics (in Arabic and English). He lived most of his life in exile. (More info on QR on www.quantumrealism.co.uk )
29th June, 14:00 – 15:30: Artist Satta Hashem will give a lecture and a guided tour of Sabri’s work
3rd July, 18.00 – 20.00: Symposium – Mahmoud Sabri and art in Iraq. Includes a panel discussion and documentary films
The exhibition is open 25th June – 6th July, 2013
Mon -Saturday: 11:00 – 19:00
Sunday 30th Jun: 12:00 – 18:00
Saturday 6th Jul: 11:00 – 17:00
La Galleria Pall Mall
30, Royal Opera Arcade
Mahmoud Sabri, extract from ‘Watani’ (My Country), 1960’s
Mahmoud Sabri, Hydrogyn Atom (1990’s)
Mahmoud Sabri, Air- 2
Mahmoud Sabri, Water, Salt and Vinegar
More is coming after I visited the exhibition myself. See for more information: http://www.lagalleria.org/section697199.html
More on Mahmoud Sabri: www.quantumrealism.co.uk
Update (2-7-2013): An impression of the exhibition (more details will follow later)
Mahumoud Sabri, The Hero, oil on canvas, 1963
photos by Floris Schreve