Born 1908, Aleppo, Syria; died 2005, New York, US
The first Iraqi woman to receive a scholarship from the government to study in Europe, Madiha Omar officially studied education but also pursued lessons in art. In 1933, she graduated from the Maria Grey Training College, London. Returning to Baghdad, Omar taught painting at the Teachers Training School for Women and later became head of the arts department. In 1942, she relocated to Washington, DC, where she received an MFA from the Corcoran School of Art in 1959 and studied art education at George Washington University. She held her first exhibition in Georgetown's public library, Washington, DC, in 1949. Upon her return to Iraq, she taught at the Academy of Fine Arts, Baghdad, and became a member of the One Dimension Group of 1971. From 1950–80 she held eighteen solo exhibitions. She also participated in numerous international art conferences and group exhibitions and her work has featured in modern Middle Eastern and Iraqi group shows such as Strokes of Genius: Contemporary Iraqi Art, Brunei Gallery, London, travelling exhibition, 2000–02; Word into Art, British Museum, London, 2006; and Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, 2009.
Omar’s work is regarded as the precursor to Hurufiyah (a trend that was particularly popular amongst Arab artists during the 1960s and 1970s), as she was one of the first artists to explore the formal qualities of the Arabic letter in contemporary art in 1944. Her work is held in collections including Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman.