On 5 January 1957 the ‘Eisenhower Doctrine’ was established in a speech delivered by the American President. In response to the Suez Crisis in Egypt the previous year, the United States codified its commitment to providing financial and military aid to countries in the Middle East, to support their fight against the spread of Soviet communism. And where politics went, art followed.
Yet while modern art would become increasingly visible across the Arab world in the following years, by the 1950s it was already firmly entrenched in Iraq thanks for the pioneering work of Turkish-born painter and sculptor, Jawad Saleem. Credited as “the founder of modern art in Iraq”, Saleem arrived in Baghdad in 1940 from war-torn Paris, where he had been studying prior to the Nazi invasion. Having trained at some of the top art schools in Europe, Saleem shared his skills with a new generation of artists in his home country as Head of the Sculpture Department at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. In 1951 he founded the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, who launched their new vision of Iraqi art in an inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Ancient Costumes. After Saleem’s untimely death in 1961, the leadership of the group was transferred to his protégé, Shakir Hassan Al Said. With the support of other prominent Iraqi artists taught by Saleem, such as Ismail Fatah Al Turk, the group would help to establish a thriving art scene in the region.
Recently there has been a resurgence of awareness of Cold War art from the Middle East, thanks to the foundation of the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA) by Iraqi art specialist, Professor Nada Shabout.
You can view some more examples of work by the Baghdad Group in this ‘Modern Art in Iraq’ slideshow.
Images: Top – Jawad Saleem, Untitled (The Gardener), c.1950. Oil on canvas, 62 x 52 cm. Private Collection, Dubai. Photo courtesy Meem Gallery, Dubai; Bottom – Shakir Hassan Al Said, Lines on a Wall, 1978. Oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. © Photo: Courtesy of Nada Shabout