This year at Art Dubai Contemporary Meem Gallery will feature recent works on canvas by artists Dia Azzawi and Zhivago Duncan. Both artists approach the theme of Ancient Mesopotamia in their most recent bodies of work, Azzawi working in his habitual acrylic on canvas; and Duncan using the technique of batik on linen. By exhibiting these paintings together, we invite collectors to consider two very different artists from within the Arab diaspora and their approaches to a similar concept.
Whilst Ancient Mesopotamian imagery and folklore has always been an area of interest for Azzawi, from his early career at the Iraqi Antiquities Department in Baghdad, it is the first time that Duncan has approached the same subject matter.
Coming to terms with the idea that he will never experience Syria as it truly was, Duncan depicts abstracted, ethereal landscapes that refer to imaginary scenarios of the land, and the beginning of written history. Through a web of interconnected quotes, poetic prophecies and deities, taken from Akkadian and Sumerian language and culture, Duncan creates a world in which he bonds with his ancestral heritage, creating a connection between his personal physicality and a metaphysical personification of a long lost land.
In Azzawi’s new works, Sumerian culture and desert imagery are clearly referenced in works such as Sumerian Sculpture (2017) and After Sunset (2018). In Sumerian Sculpture the figure is based on seated Sumerian sculptures found in the archaeological collections of museums in Iraq and worldwide, recognisable by its clasped arms and vivid colour, with the left leg raised. The vibrant hues of After Sunset were inspired by a trip to the desert, capturing the glow of ebbing daylight when the sun has dropped below the horizon of a desert landscape.
The Man Who Died Not; etchings by Dia Azzawi
The Man Who Died Not is a set of ten etchings produced by Dia Azzawi in 2018. Based on a series of 33 drawings originally created by the artist to accompany the celebrated Palestinian writer and political activist, Ghassan Kanafani’s short stories, published in 1972, the artist’s sombre figures illustrate the distressing psychological effects of the statelessness described by Kanafani in his literary work. Each of the ten etchings depicts a particular moment, with twisted figures bound in agony, shrouded, and ready for burial. These works act as a testament to the life and work of Ghassan Kanafani and DIa Azzawi, who, through their pens and ink, respectively fought, and in the case of Azzawi, continue to fight for their beliefs.