A painter and sculptor, Ismail Fattah was the founder of several artistic movements that flourished during a high point of Iraqi art production and cultural growth. In the 1950s he studied painting and sculpture under Jewad Selim at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. Fattah was artistically and politically committed to pan-Arab movements and artistic expressions, especially after the 1967 SixDay War, when he and his peers sought to participate through their art in political and military actions as they portrayed the people of their land — a plan they developed in the manifesto for the New Vision Group, which Fattah cofounded in 1969 alongside five other artists, including Dia Azzawi and Rafa Nasiri (1940–2013). The New Vision Group focused on creating a new revolutionary and human-based art, and Fattah’s work reflected his belief in the importance of observation and progress within a pan-Arab cultural solidarity. Fattah was one of the Iraqi artists hosted in Qatar under Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani’s initiative, which provided housing and a studio space, following the crises of the Gulf Wars in the 1990s and 2000s.
The core of Fattah’s practice was the human condition, with all its variations, from triumphs to setbacks, that are part of the succession of being. His earlier paintings were expressionistic close-ups of faces, while his sculptures were often faceless or headless, but still strongly expressive. The two paintings shown here, however, resemble his earlier sculptures more than his paintings. With dark monochromatic toned figures with minimal features, Fattah’s subjects become increasingly abstracted traces of human forms and echo the dark colors used by several of his peers to reflect the hopeless political situation in Iraq.