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This Green Is Not Green

Letters between Shakir Hassan Al Sa'id and Hanaa Malallah
200 pages
200 x 150 mm


This book contains twelve letters written by the artist Shakir Hassan Al Sa’id between February and November 1996, and eleven replies written by the artist Hanaa Malallah many years later, between 2004 and 2020. The letters contain a reflection on the practice of art that draws deeply on mystical theology, existential philosophy, semiotics and the art of ancient Mesopotamia. They are also, however, a rare document in the cultural history of the Middle East: not only do the letters record a dialogue in which the artists speak privately about their practice, but they also disclose the inner struggles out of which their work emerges.


Al Sa’id belonged to the founding generation of modern artists in Baghdad. He began practicing in the early 1950s and, after returning from studying in Paris, in 1959, taught art history at the Institute of Fine Arts. It was as a student at the Institute in 1973 that Hanaa Malallah first met Al Sa’id. After graduating from the Institute with a degree in print-making, she worked as an illustrator for the weekly children’s magazine Majallati and for the newspaper al-Jumhuriyya before going on to study oil painting at the University of Baghdad in 1982. It was Al Sa’id’s habit to keep up with his former students, and he frequently visited Malallah at the publishing house where she worked. The money she made from illustrating enabled Malallah to pursue her practice as an artist, and in 1991 she had her first solo show. Al Sa’id wrote a text for the catalog, and over the following years a dialogue developed between the two artists, culminating in the creation of the Symposium for Aesthetic Discourse [al-nadwa lil-khiţab al-jamālī] in 1994.


In the early 1990s, sanctions imposed on Iraq by a series of United Nations resolutions, initially in response to the invasion of Kuwait and later to a program of weapons development, forced many Iraqis to move temporarily to Jordan, where an expatriate art world arose amidst the art scene already nascent in Amman, anchored by the National Gallery of Fine Arts, the ‘Abdul Hamid Shuman Foundation and Ab‘aad Gallery. During these years, Al Sa’id traveled repeatedly to Amman where he not only showed work but also gave public lectures at Darat al Funun. Malallah too spent time in Jordan, notably on the occasion of the exhibition ‘Environment and Ecology in Iraqi Art’ [al-Biy’a wa al-muhīţ wa al-aykūlūjiyya fī al-fann al-‘irāqī] at the National Gallery of Fine Arts in 1997.


This Green Is Not Green

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