Kadhim Hayder (Iraq, 1932-1985) Untitled

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Lot 26
Kadhim Hayder
(Iraq, 1932-1985)

Sold for £ 80,500 (US$ 102,595) inc. premium
Kadhim Hayder (Iraq, 1932-1985)
oil on canvas, framed
executed circa 1960's
76 x 100cm (29 15/16 x 39 3/8in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from a private collection, London

    "A elegiac tone has marked the work of Kadhem Haider
    for some years, ever since he painted a large number of pictures on
    the martyrdom of Hussein at Karbala, but in a manner quite different
    from that of Azzawi. For him the religious inspiration of Islam
    comes through a sense of tragedy, in signs and symbols that he makes
    his own; horses, helmets, swords, spears, men, women, tents, conspiracies, treacheries - the whole phantasmagoria of ancient battles in
    a peculiarly personal idiom.

    Man defiant though prisoner, though martyred and quartered;
    such has been his theme for a long time, partly derived from Arab
    history as he understands it, where much of his modern vision is
    rooted. But Kadhem Haider has also employed his style in telling of
    man in search of himself, in search of love, in search of wonder.,
    He unabashedly mixes the figurative with the abstract, but having
    devised a vocabulary of distinctly personal forms, the mixture serves
    his purpose well, when figure and abstract seem to exchange function
    and complement one another very much as in Sumerian art.

    His Buraq is thus in part the horse of the Prophet's night journey, and in
    part the soul's journey through the dark blues of man's endless night
    of mystery."
    - Jabra Ibrahim Jabra

    Kadhim Hayder was a master of weaving symbolism, poetic allegory and abstraction into compositions that were predominantly narrative in subject matter.

    As a poet, he had a lifelong fascination with the Shi'ite epic of the Martyrdom of Imam Hussein and this episode forms the subject matter of his most significant body of work, The Epic of the Martyr which was exhibited in 1965 at at the National Museum of Modern Art.

    The present work is a seminal example from this period; seemingly abstract in its entirety, Hayder employs cunning visual symbols that allow us to decipher his hidden narrative. A lone red moon is the only concrete remnant of a totally obfuscated landscape. This "blood moon", a depiction of the lunar eclipse, in Quranic tradition, is symbolic of the wrath of God, and a celestial reminder of the day of judgement. Beneath this, a mass of yellow and white geometric shapes meet one another in fractious confluence.

    This outwardly abstruse configuration is understood in reference to Hayder's wider body of work dealing with the battle of Karbala; in other compositions, the white horses of Hussein are seen mourning the death of their Martyr beneath an ominous red moon. In this work, the abstracted sea of white, representing the purity of the fallen Hussein and his fellow martyrs, is assaulted by a mass of opposing colour and enveloped in a sea of black, all under the watchful gaze of the red moon, the signifier of the Almighty's disapproving ire.

    Poignantly, this symbol, the moon, remains as a concrete reminder of the continuity and immediacy of the divine, the only figure that, through its perfection and wholeness, utterly defies any attempt at abstraction.

    Kadhem Hayder studied literature at the Higher Institute for Teachers; in 1957 he earned a diploma from the Institute of Fine Arts. Between 1959 and 1962 he studied theatre design at the Central College of the Arts in London. Upon returning to Iraq, he taught at the Institute of Fine Arts, opening a department of design. He continued to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts, when it replaced the Institute of Fine Arts; his book al-Takhtit wa Elwan (Sketching and Colours) became standard reading for students there. In 1971 he organized a group called the Academicians, based on an exhibition and around a text he wrote reclaiming a Platonic notion of the academy as a way to relate the different arts to each other, and to the arts of the past. He served as president of the Union of Iraqi Artists, the Union of Arab Artists, and the Society of Iraqi Plastic Artists.

    Hayder began showing work while he was still a student, at a number of collective exhibitions held at Nadi al-Mansur, the major exhibition space in Baghdad during the 1950s. When his work and that of other young artists was rejected for exhibition at Nadi al-Mansur in 1958, he organized a counter-exhibition of the rejected. He also displayed his work at Al-Wasiti Gallery in Baghdad in 1964, and in 1965 he exhibited the series The Epic of the Martyr at the National Museum of Modern Art. Selected works from the series were subsequently shown in Beirut, both on their own, and as a prominent part of a collective exhibition of work by Iraqi artists at the Sursock Museum, a show that toured a number of European capitals under the sponsorship of the Gulbenkian Foundation.

    His work was included in many major exhibitions throughout the 1970s, such as the First Arab Biennale, Baghdad, 1974; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1976; and the International Art Exhibition for Palestine held in Beirut, 1978. In 1984 he held a final solo show at the Iraqi Cultural Centre in London. His work was quickly acquired by private collectors, and thus it is only in recent years that it has entered public collections beside that of the Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, such as that of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Arab Art in Doha.
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