A cursory glance at the selection of paintings in this show from the last decade of Nadira Azzouz’s life gives the viewer an overwhelming feeling of optimism. Whether it’s a family group, an intimate couple, individual figures or a landscape, these boldly executed works exude a sense of wonder and joy. Defined by their strongly linear quality and vibrant colours, we find ourselves celebrating our own lives through those of the characters and scenes depicted. We can hear the music playing, we dance alongside the performers, smell the soft scents of summer or feel the excitement of new beginnings.
Born in Mosul in 1927, Nadira Azzouz started painting from the age of six, later studying art at the School of Domestic Fine Arts in Baghdad (1944-49). This was followed with further studies at the Central School of Art in London (1957-60) where she achieved a BA in Painting. Like most Iraqi artists of her generation who had similarly studied abroad, her work is informed by the canon of 20th century international art yet at the same time displays its own distinctive, Iraqi, identity as found in Sumerian and Assyrian sculptures, medieval Arab manuscript illumination and the folk motifs of handicrafts and rugs, as well as local popular themes.
What sets Nadira apart from her artistic peers, however, is the femininity of touch in her work. The Iraqi novelist, critic and artist, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, wrote in 1983, ‘There is something peculiarly feminine … in her choice of colour and composition as well, explicable perhaps in the context of an Iraqi woman’s passions. Things akin to burning coals suddenly glow and let off sparks through a brazier full of ashes’. ‘For her, painting has often been a communication with inner visions, inner eruptions to which no figure or word could do justice, hence her emphasis and resourceful play on colour. In her recent work one can see her striving after a more lyrical, more diaphanous effect, suggestive of technical mastery’.
Her first solo exhibition took place at the Headquarters of the Red Crescent, Baghdad in 1960, where she became an active member of the Society of Iraqi Plastic Arts and participated in all their exhibitions between the years 1960-70, as well as the world-wide touring exhibitions which they organized.
In 1966, Nadira exhibited her work at the Al-Wasiti Art Gallery, Baghdad, also later that year at the renowned Woodstock Gallery in London. From 1959 Nadira further studied Still Life and Freehand at Cambridge. During this time, whilst living in Lebanon, she held a one-woman show at Gallery One in Beirut in 1965 and again in 1974. Further solo exhibitions were held in 1968 at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Baghdad and another at the Alwiyah Club in 1981. In 1980 Nadira moved to the UK and in 1988, she took part in the groundbreaking exhibition held at the Kufa Gallery, London, ‘Arab Women Artists in the UK’. Then in 2013 Nadira held a solo exhibition, ‘East Meets West’ at the London Westbank Gallery and another at the Kenilworth Gallery ‘Art & Wine’ in 2015.
Nadira continued to reside in London and to paint and make powerful thought-provoking art until her death in 2020.
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