Shakir Hassan Al Said (Iraq, 1925-2004) Cubist Cockerel

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Lot 12
Shakir Hassan Al Said
(Iraq, 1925-2004)
Cubist Cockerel

Sold for £ 194,500 (US$ 251,733) inc. premium
Shakir Hassan Al Said (Iraq, 1925-2004)
Cubist Cockerel
signed "Shaker Hassan Al Said" in Arabic (lower right), and dated "1955" in Arabic (lower left), executed in 1955
oil on board, framed
53 x 56cm (20 7/8 x 22 1/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Collection of Jewad Selim, acquired directly from Shaker Hassan Al Said in 1951;
    and thence by descent to Jewad Selim's wife, Lorna, and daughters, Miriam and Zaineb Selim

    "We wanted to clarify to Iraqi artists in general, and to ourselves as an art group in particular, that istilham alturath (seeking inspiration from tradition) is the basic point of departure to achieve a cultural vision through modern styles."
    - Shakir Hassan Al Said

    The following three lots are superlative examples of Shaker Hassan Al-Said's work, from a seminal period in the development of Modern Iraqi Art.

    1951 marked the point when Iraq's two most prominent artists, Jewad Selim and his student Shakir Hassan Al-Said, formed the countries first bona fide modern art movement; The Baghdad Group of Modern Art, through its manifesto, membership, and numerous exhibitions would come to signify a "golden age" in Iraqi modernism.

    Shakir Hassan Al-Said is often regarded as the theoretical dynamo of the movement; more vocal and prolific in his written output than Selim, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra comments that "no Iraqi artist has written about art in general, and about the artists reflections on his own work in particular, as much as Shaker Hassan Al Said".

    The Baghdad group was defined by an attempt to reconcile the grand visual legacy of the past within the contemporary cultural and nationalistic narrative of twentieth century Iraq. Mesopotamian iconography and Islamo-Arabic cultural motifs were combined with popular modern folk imagery; the high flown formal rigidity of ancient rock reliefs met the convoluted urban landscape of modern Baghdad, populated with the humorous and extravagant characters of daily life, all coming together to form a unique amalgamated aesthetic that reflected the evolving patchwork of Iraqi culture at the time.

    Light hearted and boisterous, Al Said and Selim's depictions revelled in the rich and florid aesthetic of the Baghdad Street. The first of these works, a depiction of a Cubist Cockerel, is a quintessential example of this. A recurring motif in Arab culture, the cockerel has been a subject of ancient pottery, metalwork and embroidery. Seen as a traditional symbol of sustenance, nourishment and rural plenty, it is even said in the hadith of Abu Dawud that the Prophet Muhammad told his followers "not to revile the rooster for it wakes you up for prayer".

    Appropriating a symbol that is not only literally recurrent within the urban scenery, but signals the coming of the day, the passage of prayer, and which satisfies an important mercantile function, exemplifies the aim of the Baghdad Group's agenda, which was to depict an art which engaged the people, and which was reflective of their collective experience.

    In using a rich and uplifting Expressionist palette, and the visual language of the cubists, Al-Said's rooster assumes qualities and characteristics above and beyond the mere representational; by stressing vibrant colours and an angular anatomy, an abstract structure is favoured at the expense of strictly pictorial elements, an effect that is heightened as visual elements of the background fauna correspond to the representation of the Cockerel in palette and contour. The ultimate effect is that of the Cockerel as purely symbolic and highly stylized, an artistic invention.

    Acquired from Shakir Hassan by Jewad Selim, it is hard to think of a work with better provenance or one that closer to the very heart of the Baghdad movement than the present work. Given by student to teacher, cherished by him and his family for close to half a century, Al Said's Cubist Cockerel can truly be described as "best of breed".
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