Rafa Nasiri graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad,with a diploma in painting in 1959. From 1959 to 1963, he studied printmaking at Central Academy of Fine Arts, in Beijing, receiving a BA in the subject. Nasiri’s exposure to Chinese art, more specifically the ink paintings of Qi Baishi and the works of his teacher Huang Yu Yi, has had a lasting impact on his work and his exploration of calligraphic forms and words. In 1969, he received a scholarship from the Gulbenkian Foundation to study at The Gravura, Lisbon, receiving a diploma in printmaking the same year. Upon his return to Baghdad, he co-founded the New Vision Group and was later head of the Graphic Department at the Institute of Fine Arts. Nasiri also taught at the University of Yarmouk and the University of Bahrain for a number of years. He has been highly influential in encouraging later generations of Iraqi artists to explore the art of printmaking. He has also written many essays and books on modern Iraqi art.
More recently, his works have been inspired by the poetry of al-Mutanabbi, al-Jawahiri, Mahmoud Darwish, Etel Adnan and May Muzaffar. He exhibited his work extensively throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia including solo exhibitions at ITU Gallery, Hong Kong, 1963; Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, 1981; Galerie Faris, Paris, 1983; Sharjah Museum, Sharjah, 1997, and Green Art Gallery, Dubai, 2008. He also participated in important international group exhibitions such as Word into Art, British Museum, London, 2006 and Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, 2009, and Art in Iraq Today (with fellow New Vision members Dia Azzawi and Ali Talib), Meem Gallery, Dubai, 2011. His work is held in collections including Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman.