Iraq's Bridge to the Global Art World
The life and work of Rafa Al Nasiri, pioneer of graphic arts in Iraq has inspired many Iraqi students and
professionals alike. He is most recognized for his significant achievements in art, loved for being a
virtuous professor and greatly admired for living the ideal life of an artist. He is a role model for us all
and I keep these priceless memories in my heart and mind as strong foundations that guided, developed,
and molded me to who and where I am as an artist, today.
The pioneer, professor and visionary
In the mid-1970s, the prime of 20th-century printmaking, the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad was an
exciting place to be. Rafa Al Nasiri was back from his studies in China. And because of his desire to teach
and foster Iraqi graphic art he founded the graphic department of the institute.
The print studio was bursting with experimental creativity and sophomores who were not in his class, like
me, would sit outside looking in and do our own version of printmaking. And in my third year, Rafa
“invited” me to join the Graphic department. I stressed the word “invited” because Rafa means serious art
and it was an honour for students to be “invited” to his studio. He recognized the kind of talents needed to
achieve the vision he had begun in Iraq.
In the print studio, we created day and night – it was a collaborative environment where we were taught
all levels of the printmaking process. His selfless ambition to take Iraqi graphic arts to international level
introduced us to the international print world. He encouraged us to compete with professional artists in
international print exhibitions – this was the very asset I brought with me when I left Baghdad to study in
Poland and carried it on to Sweden which I am proud to say paved the way to my success in the
international print world. Rafa was Iraq’s bridge to the global art world.
The role model
Outside the campus, I would observe him from a distance; how he engaged with the art world, its
bureaucracy and demands; how he interacts in the different facets including university life, local culture
and the viewing public. In Rafa, I saw art as a lifestyle, his lifestyle of choice interwoven in his creative
practice. He creates art to meet his solitary and reflective needs. Otherwise he is social in the company of
his family or friends. Dignity and integrity was his distinct character that I admired and adhered to which
guided me in the exciting journey called art life.
They say art is life; a form of self-expression, an effort to create a human entity. It manifests itself by
ways of beliefs, ideals and perception, and mirrors the inner self of the person that makes it. Rafa’s
extensive printmaking oeuvre is imbibed with the gospel of Modernism and he favours an unswerving
evolving path to true Zen over a grand statement.
Having lived in Iraq, Bahrain and Jordan, the letters, symbols and metaphors that comprise Rafa’s visual
language are categorised under the broad brush of abstraction. His artworks give an insight into his
sensory, emotional and spiritual vision of the world, expressed through the progressive aesthetic
developments that have occurred through time.
The multiplicity of Rafa’s prints can also be attributed in part through his collaboration with international
print workshops which he has earned by his increasing stature and by his willingness to travel and adjust
to strange environments. From hard-ground etching techniques to collages, each of his work are often an
ingenious match of medium and subject matter. He also employs embossing to great effect, the subtle
relief and the faint haze of the inked plates acting as delicate counterpoints to his strong abstract shapes.
His subjects bear reference to the place and country’s natural world in their cues that creates a deeper
understanding of the Zen concepts heighten by the poetic and metaphoric significance that Rafa skillfully
manipulates. This kind of artwork is looking for the viewer who is not looking for answers, only an
exchange of affection when standing in front of it.
Rafa Al Nasiri’s life-time of art making and art life are too deep and broad subjects to ever fully be
encompassed with words. As a pioneer in graphic arts, he brought Iraqi graphic arts to the frontlines of the
international print arena. As a professor, he has inspired and groomed many students to success. As an
artist, his artwork emits serenity that touches the soul of the viewer. And as for me, I will always be
grateful that he “invited” me to join his studio.
This retrospective print exhibition brings together cohesive key moments of Rafa Al Nasiri’s great
accomplishments and wonderful journey in art …to be shared and celebrated by Iraqis, Arabs and the
international print world.
Modhir Ahmed, Sweden 2013