Creative and Inspiring Women Artists of Iraq Pt. 3

"I see every Arabic letter as an abstract image leading to a special meaning, and that these letters, regardless of their expression, become a source of inspiration." - Madiha Umar


Letters Tell (1950) by Madiha UMARIbrahimi Collection

Madiha Umar was born in 1908 in the province of Aleppo, located in northern Syria, from a Syrian mother and a Circassian father.

Her full name is Madiha Hassan Tahsin, but after her marriage in 1939 to the Iraqi diplomat Yassin Umar, she took his family name ‘Umar’. She became known as Madiha Umar and started giving lectures in the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad.

Letters Tell

Oil on Canvas Laid on Board, Created ca 1950

"From a pitch-black background, shapes that are more like stages of a fetus’ development clearly emerge. The abstraction of these biological letters tells us of a future growth, 

beings that will live on this earth soon, faces that bear both monstrous and beautiful features, some visible and some barely visible. An egg and sperm cross together, then a zygote, then an embryo.

and finally bringing out more human, or recognizable forms".

Fountain of Tears (1979) by Madiha UMARIbrahimi Collection

She acquired Iraqi citizenship in 1941 and moved to the USA with her husband, as he was an appointed member of the Iraqi mission; she held her first solo exhibition in Washington, DC.

She searched for books on Arabic calligraphy in the Washington libraries and found a book by Nabia Abbott, a professor of Islamic Studies, which opened the way for her to deepen her research by abstracting the Arabic letter,

exploring the possibilities of merging Arabic letters with artistic works in the 1940s, in what would later be called the ‘Hurufiyya Movement’.

She became known as the first female artist to abstract Arabic calligraphy and integrate it into her artistic works.

She was one of two artists who used Arabic Letters in their artwork, being considered as one of the pioneers of Arabic Hurufiyya (the other artist being Jamil Hammoudi). 

Fountain of Tears

Mix Media on Paper 

"The artist painted this paper work using different materials of ink, acrylic and watercolor, with a letter abstraction that hints at the intended forms that denotes the title and date of the work.

The artist employed the form and the medium in an abstract and elaborate manner, drawing pictures of plant parts with elegant, organic and curved lines, rarely finding a trace of pure straightness, as in nature.

Madiha was abstracting the shapes of nature and of Arabic letters, combining within them a type of celibacy and gratitude that integrated the laws of the universe and its signs, consoling them to an original design and glorious structure".

Arabesques 1 (1985) by Madiha UMARIbrahimi Collection

She wrote a book called 'Arabic Calligraphy: An Inspiration Element in Abstract Art'.

In 1988, Madiha held her last exhibition in Baghdad, in which she exhibited more than 136 paintings representing her career spanning over more than half a century, starting from 1931 to date.

The artist passed away in 2005 in Amman, Jordan at the age of ninety-seven years.

"The lines of Madiha Umar remind us of some lines of the Spaniard Juan Miro, but here we are facing an oriental heritage, civilization and artistry, and the difference of two lines are as wide and clear as the difference between the two cultures, two environments.


Mix Media on Paper

The artist crowded the surface of her painting with dense lines and seemingly unfamiliar shapes, decorations, embroideries and miniatures, an abstraction of shapes and an intensity of lines. 

No matter how abstract the oriental is, it returns to nature, where underlying unconscious symbols relate to the kingdom of eternal existence.

The artist alludes to an eternal process in nature, in which organisms and plants reproduce to preserve the species and continuation of life".

View of a Holy Place by Madiha UMARIbrahimi Collection

View of a Holy Place

Oil on Canvas Laid on Board 

"Decorated walls, surmounted by projections, giving a luxurious royal style guarded by a torchbearer that lights the way for visitors. The fortified place opens to a huge door that has been opened wide, welcoming those in and out, under a sky illumined by the stars.

Inside, in the far distance, there is a trace of a shrine of a saint or prophet. Around him, figures encircle the shrine, reduced through abstraction leaving no distinct feature or character.

There is only peace and silence, no features, no human movement, only the light of the sky, and the open doors.

With warm colors on earth and in the sky, Madiha Umar suggests to us the warmth, intimacy and sanctity of the place. She painted this work in a style that can be classified as Abstract Expressionism".

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