This group of recent paintings by celebrated Iraqi artist, Dia al-Azzawi reflect his abiding fascination with his country's long and storied past. As a trained archaeologist who began his working life at the Iraqi Antiquities department in Baghdad, his references to Mesopotamian and Sumerian cultures reoccur throughout his oeuvre. Working in his habitual acrylic on canvas, Azzawi cites ancient cultures
as well as desert imagery in works such as Sumerian Sculpture, 2017 and After Sunset, 2018. In Sumerian Sculpture the figure is based on seated Sumerian sculptures found in the archaeological collections of museums in Iraq and worldwide, recognisable by its clasped arms and use of vivid colour, with the left leg raised. The vibrant hues of After Sunset were inspired by a trip to the desert, capturing the glow of ebbing daylight when the sun has dropped below the horizon of a desert landscape.
Another area of interest for Azzawi has always been form and shape, which are themes he explores throughout his sculptures, drawings and paintings. In this collection of key recent paintings, there are some strong examples of this particular focus - most overtly in Mysterious Shape, 2017; in which an ambiguous object is created optically through the use of straight lines combined with organic shapes,
set against a somber background. Azzawi's interest in these shapes can be traced to his previous works, including plants and birds that reference subjects like the desert rose and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Architectural elements are also often found in Azzawi's work, and in the 2016-17 work Three Obelisks, there is clear reference to a structural form, in this case as a group of three obelisks. While there is an allusion to ancient Assyrian obelisks, there is also a figurative aspect to this depiction of three, bringing to mind works such as, Jenin Jenin, 2002.
A more unusual work, The Sleeping Gypsy (after Henri Rousseau), 2017, is directly inspired by the 1897 Rousseau painting of the same name. In this new work Azzawi has shifted the focus away from the lion, which here resembles those found in Assyrian wall reliefs, onto the prone figure. In this reincarnation, it is unclear if the gypsy is indeed asleep, or may now be deceased.