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Posted On: 19 October 2016 07:14 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:16 pm

The “art” of storytelling: Iraqi artists touch on war and tragedy at Doha museums

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Dia al-Azzawi 3 (2)

Title image source: QM

Over the past week, Qatar Museums (QM) has organized the curation of works by internationally acclaimed Iraqi artists Dia al-Azzawi and Mahmoud Obaidi.

Bold message

Both artists convey similar messages through the art of storytelling throughout their various works. A very similar theme exists throughout their art; of war, tragedy, and destruction, both in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

MahmoudImage source: QM

Obaidi’s “Fragments” focus solely on the Iraq War. He began creating his work in 2003, shortly after the US invasion. Obaidi attempts to preserve the memories of what Iraq was, before its destruction during the war.

Although al-Azzawi’s works, “I am the cry, who will give voice to me? Dia al-Azzawi: A Retrospective (From 1963 until Tomorrow),” also provide a glimpse into the tragedies that Iraq has gone through, they also depict the calamities that other Middle Eastern nations like Palestine experienced as well.

Shedding light on a sometimes forgotten issue, both artists have brought life to a topic from a new perspective.

IMG_0701.JPGAl-Azzawi work at Riwaq

Challenging the portrayal of the tragedies of the region from the mass media, al-Azzawi and Obaidi show the other side of the spectrum: the side that is hidden behind the scenes. The artwork shows the families affected, the children left abandoned, the destroyed homes, and many more sorrowful events that have taken place over the years.

Through a powerful narrative, both artists manage to share their unique interpretations on the tragedies that they have witnessed throughout their time in the Middle East.

Distinct pieces

The most talented artists portray the different messages they want to convey through a variety of methods. In these exhibitions, each piece is developed meticulously to impress a particular message and meaning upon the viewer.

Obaidi has a number of unique pieces on display at the QM Gallery Katara in Katara Cultural Village. “Operation Iraqi Freedom Family” is a really evocative life-size sculpture that shows an Iraqi family that has been severely impacted, physically and emotionally, by the Iraq War. The materials Obaidi used to make the sculpture are from leftover US weaponry and vehicles in Iraq combined with copper and other materials.


“Now we have 3 million orphans, 4.5 million handicapped, including all the kids born with deformities,” Obaidi said. “When I think of the family, the “Operation Iraqi Freedom Family,” I have to do it as a sculpture, and have to use these materials. It says, this is what you did to us.”

A talent of Obaidi shown within his collection is the ability to use dark humor to convey a message to the viewers. Particularly with Obaidi’s piece of the busts of George W. Bush surrounded by shoes. Obaidi preserves the iconic act of rebellion as a symbol for the Iraqi people.


Mahmoud Obaidi’s pieces also display a side of the war that is not really known to the outside world. One such piece was a door of an American Chevrolet military armored vehicle that had the words “CAUTION STAY 100 METERS BACK OR YOU WILL BE SHOT” printed on it. This was a warning to Iraqi people to stay far away.

“Many families died because of this,” Obaidi said, “I can’t see it from 20 metres even to read it.”


With Obaidi’s works being very distinct and focused on the tragedies in Iraq, al-Azzawi’s works on exhibit are massive, both in size and number, with over 520 pieces that showcase both skillful artistry when it comes to illustrated manuscripts and compelling historical narratives on the Middle East. Al-Azzawi has two exhibits currently on display at both Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and at the QM Gallery Al-Riwaq.

Al-Azzawi shines a different kind of spotlight on the issues that have troubled Iraq and the region from 1963 onwards. Al-Azzawi does this in an abstract and contemporary way that leaves the viewers to interpret what kind of message he is trying to send. His pieces are a mix of illustrative pieces that accompany the works of distinguished and prominent Arab poets, paintings that share interesting and saddening historical stories, art that combines a blend of calligraphy and images, life-size and miniature sculptures, and much more.


While each artist has their own beautiful understanding of events, it is the unification of the pieces that speaks volumes. The way the pieces of each artist flow together while still not losing their own distinct messages, provokes a deep sadness within the viewer and promotes a reevaluation of the views that have been impressed upon us about the different tragedies of our region and our world.

A new feat

Their works are being exhibited in three different museums in Doha. Obaidi’s exhibition “Fragments” is on display at Katara Cultural Village in the QM Gallery Katara from 18 October, 2016 to 30 January, 2017, while al-Azzawi’s works titled, “I am the cry, who will give voice to me? Dia al-Azzawi: A Retrospective (From 1963 until Tomorrow)” are being simultaneously displayed at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and at the QM Gallery Al-Riwaq, from 17 October, 2016 to 16 April, 2017.

These exhibits are a must-see for anyone currently in Doha. They will resonate with you and definitely impact you.

Are you interested in checking out these exhibits? Have you seen them already? What did you think? Comment below!