Born 1939, Baghdad, Dia (Al) Azzawi is internationally recognised as one of the pioneers of modern Arab art. His oeuvre comprises over forty years of work and displays the remarkable creativity of an incredibly versatile artist. Defined by its powerful visual impact and brilliant colour, Al-Azzawi's art covers a range of subjects executed in a variety of media-including painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, and book art. He lives and works in London but continues to derive inspiration from his homeland, Iraq.
With exhibitions of his work held worldwide, his art features in the collections of museums and institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad; Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar Foundation, Doha; Museum of Modern Art, Damascus; Museum of Modern Art, Tunis; Museum of Modern Art, Amman; Kinda Foundation, Saudi Arabia; Una Foundation, Casablanca; Arab Monetary Fund, Abu Dhabi; Development Fund, Kuwait; Jeddah International Airport; British Museum, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Saudi Bank, London; United Bank of Kuwait, London; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Paris; Colas Foundation, Paris; Harba Collection, Iraq and Italy; Gulbenkian Collection, Barcelona; Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; and The World Bank, Washington D.C.
Al-Azzawi started his artistic career in 1964, after graduating from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and completing a degree in Archaeology from Baghdad University in 1962. His studies of ancient civilizations and Iraqi heritage had a profound impact on his art, and a key objective in the early formation of his artistic style was to link the visual culture of the past to the present.
In 1969, Al-Azzawi formed the New Vision Group (al-Ru'yya al-Jadidah), uniting fellow artists ideologically and culturally as opposed to stylistically. The group's manifesto, Towards a New Vision, highlighted an association between art and revolution, and sought to transcend the notion of a 'local style'-coined by the Baghdad Modern Art Group-by broadening the parameters of local culture to include the entire Arab world. The group held their final exhibition in 1972.
Through his involvement with the New Vision Group Al-Azzawi found inspiration in contemporary subjects and issues, particularly the plight of Palestinians. His shift from themes of antiquity and legend to that of pain, death, and conflict altered his stylistic approach to painting significantly. These works lacked the vivid colour and ornamentation of earlier images and, instead, utilised bold outlines, attention to detail, and improvisational techniques.
Al-Azzawi's move to London, in 1976, led him to rediscover book art. Having researched the collection of Islamic manuscripts housed in the British Library, he affirms that the art of the book is the truest art form of the Arab world, even more so than painting, and encourages artists of the region to draw inspiration from, and reinterpret, this tradition.