Ten mythical white horses, their abstracted bodies collapsed together in grief, wail out to a bare, nocturnal landscape. An isolated green horse turns his body away from the group, exiled under a blood red moon. This painting is from one of Iraqi artist Kadhim Hayder’s most notable series, The Epic of the Martyr, based on a poem the artist wrote in 1965, and exhibited that year at the new National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad. The poem references the eighth century Battle of Karbala, which resulted in the death of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Hussein Ibn Ali; an event that is commemorated annually through public mourning rituals. The work references this significant moment of martyrdom in Islamic history as an allegory for the tumultuous and rapidly transforming political context of Iraq following the 1963 coup in which many suspected dissidents and political opponents were killed. According to the artist Dia Azzawi, Hayder introduced in this series a new paradigm in Iraqi modernism by drawing on history and cultural memory as motifs, isolated from direct narrative reference, that served as allegories for the present. More on this painting
Kadhim Hayder is among the most revered members of Iraq’s modernist movement and was a member of a number of artists groups. Merging his interests in literature, symbolism and daily life, Hayder articulated multiple levels of readings in his painting practice. He studied painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and later attended the Royal College of Art in London to study theatre design and printmaking from 1961 to 1962. After his return to Iraq and infused with a sense of pan-Arab identity, he introduced a new paradigm to his representational style. He focused on the eighth century Battle of Karbala, which resulted in the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein ibn Ali, creating a series of paintings known as Melhamet al-Shahid, or The Martyr’s Epic. An analysis of Hayder’s approach suggests that he re-contextualised the practice of taziya (mourning) through poetry and theatrical re-enactments of the battle. Hayder’s work was exhibited frequently in the 1970s, including at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Baghdad’s First Arab Biennial in 1974. More on Kadhim Hayder
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