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Mohammed Ghani Hikmet: A Retrospective of Iraqi Art in Baghdad

bust of mohammed ghani hikmat iraqi art
Image Courtesy of The Gallery, Baghdad

His statues that adorn public squares in Baghdad have become vessels of Iraqi culture and history in a city that is rapidly rebuilding and at threat of losing what was once its iconic architectural style. They embody a diverse history of culture through a style that represents the pioneering Iraqi movement of the 50s and beyond. Passing away in 2011, April marked his first posthumous retrospective in Baghdad held at The Gallery in Karada.

The exhibition, held over 10 days, brought together around 400 pieces from the family archive as well as local private collections. Featuring his sketches, early models, and a selection of tools, this incredibly well though out exhibition not only invited people to explore his body of work, but also find out more about the journey of creation in the mind of one of Iraq's greatest artists. "People know his name, they see his work as they drive to work or go out in the evening, but this was the first chance to get to know the Mohammed as a man, not just a name" Riyadh Ghanea tells Creative Iraq. Riyadh, himself an artist and exihibition curator, and working with The Gallery, curating exhibitions that strengthen greater understanding of Iraq's rich artistic legacy that has become fractured over recent decades. " We have seen hundreds of people attend, from a diverse range of backgrounds! We still get people asking if the exhibition is still on." Exploring the creative journey of Mohammed Ghani Hikmet was an insight into a different time, when artists were supported and thrived (albeit with political expectations), and a sense of pride in history drove their work and creativity, a contrast to today where the arts community often feels isolated and disparate, their abstract conceptions of expression ignored - though those making the world's biggest 'dishdaasha' (traditional Arabic male robe)' seem to have gotten away with their installation before nature thought otherwise.

Iraqi art showing a Babylonian beast
Image Courtesy of The Gallery, Baghdad

Throughout the exhibition, looking closely at the sketches and busts of figures, the influence of the past is clear. The large oval eyes, that featured heavily in Sumerian art, appear heavily in his work and he connects various stages of Iraq's history with his timeless public work. The strong curves evoking the rich literary history of its citizens, and the origin of many of his characters. For those keen to explore his work that is in-situ, explore Rusafa! Sheriyar and Sherezade make for the perfect meeting point on Abu Nwas, before strolling down the Tigris reaching that of Aladdin between the Ishtar and Palestine hotels, turning towards Karada Dakhil down to Kahramana, before looping back to Al Andalus Square and finishing outside the National theatre. These interconnected squares and junctions ensure that his monuments are seen by thousands every days - the very definition of public art. Similarly in Karkh, his iconic 'Save Iraqi Culture' greets visitors to Baghdad's public park. Mohammed Ghani Hikmet led the fight to reclaim looted art and artefacts following the American invasion of 2003 and was passionate about restoring Iraq's cultural legacy, financing many of the activities of a committee to bring Iraqi history home. His passion for culture is clear from his work and we should not only view him as an incredible artist, but a hero of cultural protection. He was a complex man passionate about his identity and inherited culture, a man dedicated to restoring this sense of belonging and pride, an artist and equally an activist.

Iraqi sculture from Mohammed Ghani Hikmet
Image Courtesy of The Gallery, Baghdad

With such an outstanding archive of work, there are concerns that with a lack of engagement at a governmental level to build its capacity of museums and archives, many pieces will be sold to private collections inside and outside Iraq. "It is a shame, just imagine of we had a dedicated space for such a legendary figure of Iraqi art" Riyadh tells us. "So much art has left our homeland, for so many reasons, and we need to explore ways how to promote it here in Iraq. Having an exhibition like this, in the absence of a museum, is the best we can do in the current situation." Having a collection as rich and influential as Mohammed Ghani Hikmet's would be an incredible tool for future artists, and a resource for education, and those who explore the past through art. After this exhibition, it has us asking, when will we see more retrospectives, will we see a celebration of the recently departed mosaic master Ghazi Al-Saudi.

Iraqi sculpture of Abbasid woman 1001 nights
Image Courtesy of The Gallery

At Creative Iraq, we want to say thank you to The Gallery for conducting such an amazing exhibition, and we hope to see more titans of Iraqi art being presented. Until then, we have been cooking up some exciting work with members of our creative community to bring new activities to the streets that connect art and creativity with culture and heritage, so if you are interested in Iraqi history, art history, or art in general, stay tuned for some exciting announcements soon!

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