One Of Us
The period of the nineteen sixties was the starting point of various shifts in the field of fine art. Since the mid-1960s, many Iraqis studying various disciplines in different countries abroad came back to Iraq. Rafa was one of them. At that time, when numerous solo exhibitions were held which raised a number of different questions, the climate was generally experimental, not only on the part of the returning artists, but also on the part of emerging artists, some of whom were still in the process of completing their studies. Rafa’s exhibition ran counter to this climate, bringing a high standard of technical skill and professionalism which were unprecedented on the Iraqi printmaking scene. The exhibition demonstrated a certain conservative stance, no doubt as a result of his educational experience in China. However, after a short course of study in Portugal with Hashim Samarchi and Salem al-Dabbagh (two students of Artimovsky, the godfather of modernism at the time), Rafa came back with an altered artistic approach; his technical and professional knowledge was enriched with a spirit of openness, presenting a collection of artworks that marked the richest beginnings in the history of Iraqi and Arab printmaking. The collection reflected the true image of Rafa as one of the drivers of change in Iraq and one of the most effective and active artists exhibiting regionally and internationally.
Rafa was a friend to all of the artists whose works are exhibited here, and taught a number of them. He was more successful than some of them, eager to pose questions. He had his social and artistic detachments, as well as his artistic differences with others—differences that involved potential improvements to effect change in the local artistic approach.
He was one of us, with his own personal shifts and ways of treating his subject and medium; one of us in his desire to ignore the problems raised by individual enmities; one of us in his eagerness to open the door to those who wanted to ask questions; one of us in his desire to preserve an Arab approach and an Iraqi spirit in art.
When local circumstances imposed the one-party ideology, and the subsequent wars and siege, we were dispersed, and every one of us tried to come to terms with his own changing environment and relationships and to develop our artistic work as best we could. But the harshness of exile, with its social and cultural consequences, were what bound this group together spiritually. It was a bond that established, over the years, a distinct individual artistic experience in each one of us, refusing as a basic principle the logic and conditions of official patronage and standing against the dictates of ideology and its disastrous solutions.
Rafa’s artistic experience is a reflection of our individual experiences, and the experiences of those whom he taught, with all our various opportunities across different countries.
This collective exhibition is an expression of our loyalty to this long-standing friendship and a reminder of how we were and what we have become.
*A Tribute to Rafa Nasiri, curated by Dia Azzawi, Nabad Art Gallery- Amman 25. January . 2014