Claude Lemand Gallery
Paris, France
Until 30 September 2017

11 September 2001. Watching over and over again the attack on New York’s Twin Towers on the news, Dia Al-Azzawi had an immediate artistic reaction to this. Black Roots depicts a nightmare vision: the two towers are still standing yet they are black and carbonized, surrounded by enormous dark flames creeping up, whilst the sky and horizon are black.

Al-Azzawi is an Arab nationalist open to other cultures, committed in defending and representing the identity of the Arab world’s cultures. He always denounced the West’s attacks on the Arab world and its people, as well as its support for Israel and for corrupted authoritarian Arab regimes… However, given that the New York attack was led by young Saudi men, the artist realised that the ancient Arab culture had a dark and negative side to it. Black Roots clearly states that Arabs also have a responsibility with regards to their own misfortune: it is a tribes’ people who have a passion for violence and destruction.

Born in Baghdad in 1939, Dia Al-Azzawi settled in London in 1976. He visited several museums and libraries across Europe that enabled him to discover the arts of many civilizations and to rediscover Mesopotamia’s rich cultural heritage as well as the manuscripts from the Arab civilization’s golden ages during the Abbasid era.

The culture and the history of Azzawi’s home country and the Arab world as a whole have always been the main source of his inspiration. He very much appreciated poetry and he produced a prolific and rich oeuvre, inspired by the great modern and contemporary Arab poets of the past.

Out of the 20 tondos he painted since 2001, Black Roots is the only tragic one, relating to contemporary events. All the other tondos celebrate through colour the world’s beauty, the love of life, the blue of the dreams at night without any nightmares.

Such an example of these joyful tondos is the large three-dimensional tondo entitled Blue Landscape of 2015. It is a cubistic composition which could allude to a real landscape seen through the plane’s window (the artist travels extensively) or a window with a view on the blue Mediterranean Sea, a landscape from a dream characterised by its deep blue colour, alluding to either day or night… it stays open for interpretation.

These two tondos perfectly exemplify the two permanent influences on London’s great Arab artist, that of Pablo Picasso on his works inspired by massacres and horrific events that are traumatising the Arab world since decades, and that of Henri Matisse on his joyful and colourful works that reflect the love of life in Nature and in the Oriental Gardens. – Claude Lemand

Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess.