analyzing study for Saadi Al kaabi's works.
By the Artist and critics
spring 1986, I enjoyed communicating with a huge mural depicted by
saadi al- kaabi, whom I have known from three decades. This mural
“Babylon”, displayed at Babylon hotel in Baghdad not his skill but
also made me appreciate the high standing he has appreciate the high
standing he has achieved as a prominent painter.
My admiration to this artist and his competence made me visit him at
his atelier in al- waziriya residential district in Baghdad. The
several visits I have paid to al- kaabi not only emphasized my
appreciation but also enabled me to further understand and become
acquainted with the stages of development he has gone through over
the past twenty years of continuous creativity. I stress that al-
kaabi has reached such a competence which makes him a perfect
representative of the contemporary art movement in Iraq.
The mural which led me to this profound study of al- kaabi, depicts
the ancient civilizations of Iraq, with a focus on the ancient
Babylonian civilizations. Though the site of Babylon includes
nothing but remains of this great ancient civilization (2000 – 1000
B.C) al- kaabi has excelled in depicting his artistic vision of the
Babylonian glory. This work, which is certainly highly demanding,
must have exhausted the artist in carrying out a profound study of
all relative details to proud such an artistic documentary painting.
This mural forced me to become involved in a profound study of its
theme, style, technique, composition and other details. The study
made reach the following analysis.
I) In this mural al- kaabi realized a mature standard in
depicting the space value through a highly artistic and expressions
style. Here, the viewer immediately notice the negative and positive
elements. A perfect harmony was also achieved between the various
masses and spaces, which strike an admired balance.
II) This mural highlights al- kaabi’s style. It also
highlights his skill in developing, forming and reorganizing his
images. A more profound study of the details reflects the artist’s
skill in depicting his figures, all of which have reached
perfection. Any possible future change or modification on these
figures would certainly mean a radical change in the artist’s style
III) The mural points out the inner struggle through which
the painter must have gone regarding his choice of the colors to be
employed. However, the prevalent colors have become the tones of
brown and earth – color, which have become typical of al- kaabi. Yet
there are reflections of other colors in the mural. The colors he
employed make his work rich with romantic and mysterious effect.
IV) The viewer immediately realizes that the painter is
beyond the usual trends of some techniques, which reflect complexity
and repetition. Al – kaabi seems to excel in criticism, which makes
his paintings faultless.
V) The three – dimensional effect are clear in this mural,
which has been highlighted by projection of shapes and figures. He
has future enriched the texture of his mural by adding light and
shadow effect as well as protrusions. This work is closer to bas –
relief, which includes the characteristics of painting and
sculpture. The colors employed by al- kaabi further highlights the
projection, which in turn emphasizes the impressionistic effect.
VI) A further study of the composition design in the mural
shows that the artist has excelled in departing from traditional
restrictions and has rebelled against the conventional deception of
the central theme, which is usually situated in the center of the
painting. Instead al – kaabi chose to adopt a abridgment and
simplicity in design, composition and details. He aimed at covering
the whole canvas with his central theme, highlighting the perceptual
These are some of the point I have formed while analyzing the mural
of saadi al – kaabi “Babylon”, which is truly a work pf pure
creativity. Many Iraqi artists have earlier depicted the same theme,
including hameed al – attar, who inspired his works from the ancient
Iraqi civilization, such as the Sumerian, Babylonian and the
assurian. Yet Al-Kaabi has dealt with his theme differently. He has
employed the cultural purports to support his own style and artistic
vision. Moreover he borrowed the essential cultural characteristics
only to pinpoint the historical and documentary effects.
These facts lead us to an established fact, which explains the
nature and locks of some of the human figures and other details, all
which form together a true harmony and balance. Accordingly, the
mural has a true depiction of the Mesopotamia civilization. The
artist’s style is genuinely creative, thus highlights the artists
contemporary and distinguished stylistic peculiarity.
The artist distributed the human figures, geometrical and other
shapes evenly to create harmony of design and proportion. In order
to emphasis his elements he outlined them with projected strokes, a
technique that added to the mural the effect of antiquity.
Meanwhile, the faces of his figures express ambiguity and
peculiarity. Thus, Al-Kaabi attracts the viewers to his work, yet
offers them a world of secrecy and mystery. However, the world this
artist offers is particularly rich with taste, air of romance and
In order to further understand the artist's skill of Al-kaabi, I
believe that we should deal with the contemporary art movement in
Iraq. This will explain further facts related to the role played by
the Iraqi artist in developing the art movement in Iraq to reach the
best of the world standards.
Among the Iraqi artists who highly contributed to the development of
the art movement in Iraq are the late famous painter and sculpture
Jwad Selim, the late painters Atta Sabri and Akram Shukri, and the
competent contemporary painters Fa’iq Hassan, Hafidh al- Duroubi,
Issa Hammoudi, all of whom are pioneer artists known for their
These pioneers have called in the early 1940s for forming an
intellectual public who will have the good taste in evaluating
modern arts and appreciating its sophisticated aesthetics and
concepts. At the time these artists enjoyed no official support, yet
have been determined to pffer their very best and organize
continuous art exhibitions and activities. They were the founders of
the “art friends society” through which they organized frequent art
exhibitions. In the early forties there were no actual art movement
in Iraq. Instead the true artist such as Jwad Selim and Fa’iq Hassan,
practiced and advocated arts individually. These two competent
artists were impressionists at the time influenced by the polish
impressionist artist who fled Poland to Iraq during the second world
ware, who in turn was a student of Pierre bonnard (1867-1947). Atta
Sabri and Hafidh Al- Duroubi have adopted the academic style, while
art students. Other artists adopted styles reigning between
expressionism and conventional art, while still others preferred to
adhere to the Islamic style, Arabic calligraphy and arabesque.
Later, the Iraqi artistes decided to found their own school of art,
which would reflect Iraqi characteristics, far away from any foreign
influences. Among the devoted artists who highly contributed to this
end, aiming to establish an artistic identity, is Saadi Al-kaabi
leading Iraqi artists, recognized both on the national and
Here, I should point out a meeting held between Al-Kaabi, Isma'il
Fattah Al-turk and myself, upon their return to Iraq from Italy,
where they supervised the Iraqi contributions to the Venice
During that meeting the three of us were involved in a highly
interesting discussion on contemporary art styles, trends and
schools we also discussed the contemporary art exhibition and the
standards and styles of exhibits of various from of art, including
sculpture, painting and ceramics. It was then that I pinpointed some
of Al-kaabi's worries related to tow points.
First, how to further develop his experience in painting.
Second, how to develop the art movement in Iraq and bring it up to
the international standards.
The tow artists firmly believed that the works of Iraqi artists were
competent enough to compete with the works of the best of world
artists. Also, at that meeting I discovered that Al-Kaabi, one of
the most zealous and high- aspiring Iraqi artists, has over the
years not only proved himself to be one of the most competent
artists on the national plane but also one of the Iraqi artist who
most won international awards. Currently, he is also arts director
at the arts department at the Iraqi ministry of information and
In fact, the contemporary art movement in Iraq could never have
reached such a distinctive status had it not been for the competence
and enthusiasm of many of the Iraq artists. The established Iraqi
artists have spared no effort to explore now dimensions,
characteristics, elements and trends to allow the move met to depart
from the traditional concepts borrowed from the west. These efforts
have played a major role in founding an identity for the art
movement in Iraq, stylistically and thematically speaking. Many of
the established artists have been singled out for their distinctive
styles and techniques. Moreover many of the art groupings in Iraq
have introduced various additions to movement. As matter of fact,
many of the Iraqi's artistic research works and experiments have
been adopted in the Arab warld as well as in Europe and USA. These
influences include the modern from of the Arabic calligraphy and the
employment of Arabic letters in art works.
Currently, the art movement in Iraq is enjoying official care as
well as the public's appreciation. Recently, the Saddam arts of
rebellion and revolt. However, having become well acquainted with
all relevant details I have discovered that one could hardly set
aside his private life from his art to deal with each separately.
Al- kaabi, the highly active artist never rests. He is always
preoccupied in his incessant struggling to achieve his aims in art
and make his dreams come true. I imagine him as if struggling to
reach a certain point and as soon as he actually reaches it he spots
another one and goes further, and son on.
I was introduced to Al- kaabi in the mid 1960s. since I regarded him
as a very active, zealous and enthusiastic painter. Later, it was by
chance that I decided to study the developments in the Iraqi art
movement, which allowed me to become further acquainted with the
works of art of Al-kaabi. His paintings reflect clear talent and
vivid creativity, which gave me the feeling that this particular
Iraqi painter will be a success. Having had the opportunity to visit
one of his one- man painting exhibitions, held in Baghdad at Al-Alwiya
club, ipinpointed tow facts. At that exhibition, his paintings
depicted natural sceneries from Iraqi rural areas:
a) Al-kaabi has focused on the mode of life in the marsh-land and
concentrated on depicting animals in general and buffaloes in
b) He has introduced a now technique in which he depicted his shapes
against misty backgrounds to make them seem projected and even
This added extra dynamics to his works and enriched his shapes with
a suspended movement. It also enriched his paintings with a rich
texture, light and shadow effect as well as gave the shapes a three-
Since my admiration to that art exhibition. Al-kaabi attracted my
attention. This made me follow up his work through the eye of an art
critic. I must admit that I am glad to have been offered the
opportunity of expressing here my heartfelt appreciation to painter.
I believe that a few words on Al-kaabi, the artist, could explain a
lot. He is full of ideas, dreams and plans, which sometimes seem to
be a burden to him. Yet, he never ceases from searching for now
means for self- expression through painting. He never resorts to the
ordinary, instead searches for distinctive means and style to
reflect his artistic visions. He always involves himself in profound
study of human concepts and values to express genuine artistic
potential. His non-stop artistic stimulation provides an established
proof on his genuine interaction with art.
In studying the stages of development through which Al-Kaabi went as
an artist, one should consider the style he has adopted. He
contributed to the impressionists' art exhibitions when he was at
his earliest stylistic stages.
The impressionist group was founded in Iraq by Hafidh Al- Duroubi,
the famous painter. I have here to criticise that.
Though several artists joined this group, many of them were not
impressionists. Instead the majority of the members adopted cubism.
Soon, many decided to shift to various famous styles.
At that stage. Al-kaabi exhibited paintings which reflect an
interlined of romanticism and tragedy. His paintings were dark and
mysterious, enriched with such colorful strokes, which provide a
link between masses and spaces. The themes he used to depict, then,
were inspired from the society and nature. His paintings were
skillfully abridged which enabled him to depart from traditional
restrictions, academic anatomy and realistic perspective, in the
1950s – 1960s the style he adopted ranged between expressionism,
cubism and abstract art, with a constant employment of symbolism.
This style affected the perceptual form of his paintings rather than
his themes, which were mostly inspired from nature.
Generally speaking, the themes depicted by Al-kaabi are more often
than not inspired from the village and the human relations there.
However, the process of simplifier – ton and abridgement which he
adopts often leads to the required concentration of the concept.
This allows the idea and turns any possible ambiguity into logic.
Such a technique adds to the paintings a special extra richness in
concept and perceptual from. The works of Al-kaabi are always rich
with symbolism, flexibility, harmony of elements and colors and
special ornamentation. The also include semi- translucent
geometrical and symmetrical values. Such an interlined always
results in a special balance in his works. In a nutshell, this is
the impression I have got while studying the paintings of Al- Kaabi
at a particular stage of his artistic development. This artist has
never ceased to add now additions, symbols and elements over the
years. Accordingly, his technique, style and theme have become even
more competent over the years. His more recent works have not only
become more expressive, skilful and creative but also more abstract
and less rebellious. Al-Kaabi has achieved in his technique such a
contradiction which is almost always tasteful and meaningful on the
level of contemporary aesthetic concepts.
Al- kaabi has succeeded in achieving tow particular points of
innovation in his work, even at a time of hesitation and uneasiness.
First, he totally departed from the conventional realism by adopting
symbolism, skilful composition and extremely successful harmony of
Second, he has managed to create perfect balance through the
distribution of his masses, which he links to each other by color
toner, lines and strokes.
Despite his success, Al-kaabi seems to always be preoccupied in his
search for a particular artistic identity. He searches for a special
style, which would reflect his artistic vision, in such a way, which
would be rather unique. This undoubtedly stresses his aspiration for
singular creativity. This serious and restless artist undergoes an
inner struggle every time tomes to painting. His profound search for
the best seems to be everlasting.
A study of Al-kaabi's paintings according to a chronological order
illustrates that he has adopted the abstract art in such a way,
which could have remote, him from reality, yet it did not. At a
particular stage such remoteness was possible, when he left in his
paintings geometrical spaces, often irregular. Soon, he began to add
to his painting vitality by adding abstract figures, always
featureless and mysterious. These figures add an ambiguous human
touch to express the artist's inner struggle. The figures, though
abstract, have lessen the dryness of the geometrical shapes,
sometimes the figures seem to interlined or even seem to be hidden
behind circular shapes full with symbols. The projected stokes which
add texture to the paintings, and are often semi translucent, always
link between the figures and the other elements. These strokes often
reflect effective color influence.
The abstract figures did not quite satisfy Al-kaabi's artistic
aspiration, simply because he was strongly attached to more
important live elements. This made him consider a return to a
realistic eviction. However, he never actually shifted to realism,
the style which he regarded as quit remote from his favorite style.
Accordingly, he departed from painting for quite some time. The
period of contemplation resulted in the desert theme, the now source
of inspiration for Al-Kaabi.
The desert in the Arab peninsula, where he had earlier spent few
years, has enabled the artist to profoundly contemplate and
understand the nature and aura of the desert. This now theme forms
reality for which the artist sought for long, a reality full of
echoes which reflect the agony suffered by men. However, in these
paintings, Al-Kaabi seems to be determined to depict the agony as
clear and clean as he wishes it to be. This time again, he adopted
simplicity of style and technique, highlighting the characteristics
of the Arab culture.
Since, Al-Kaabi has been depicting the desert, each time
differently, which resulted in a variety of pieces of art. All
dealing with the very same central theme.
A study of this set of Al-Kaabi's paintings makes the viewer feel
thirst, which makes one search for the closest oasis and shadow.
The colors of the desert, the sand-cooler and its tones, have become
characteristic of his paintings of this set include the Bedouin
tents, sand, Bedouins and rich tons of the sand color. His paintings
no further include the flat strokes nor the colorful lines of the
1960s. His paintings perfectly reflect the quietness and tranquility
of the Arab desert.
The period of contemplation has made Al-Kaabi inspire his time from
the desert, yet the desert he paints is something special, not the
ordinary. His desert is never gloomy, but rather full of vitality,
yet tranquil. Even his painting "Irs fi al-Ahwar" (A wedding
Ceremony in the Marshland), which reminds the viewer of the Assyrian
relief, makes the viewer think of and fell thirst and dryness, the
feel of desert.
The desert set has brought now elements to the style and technique
of Al-Kaabi. This set is characterized by skilful composition,
connected masses, expressive lines and an indirect style based on
cubism. His colors became highly harmonious and very balanced, which
reflect balance on the whole work. Moreover, his human figures
became more impotent in the paintings. In the desert set the
composition become more central, due to the masses of tents which
from a basic element in the paintings.
The masses become rather independent, yet together from a harmonious
whole.. through the masses become more abstract. The lines become
richer and more effective. The colors grow more profound, Effectual
and expressive. Furthermore, the light and shadow effect becomes
different. The light brighter.
Al-Kaabi did not reach this stage of his artistic development by
chance. In fact it is rather a logical result of the stage of
development his style and artistic vision have undergone. A study
artist's earlier works illustrate that he often depicted animals
(mostly cows and buffaloes), rural areas of the south of Iraq and
Throughout his stage of development, Al-kaabi has always produced
three- dimensional subject matters.
Al- Kaabi, the sensitive and human artist has become known in the
contemporary art movement in Iraq as a committed artist and a
reliable person. He has not only reached the artistic identity he
strive for but also has established certain artistic basic rules and
foundations, which reflect his long and fruitful experience.
The paintings of Al-Kaabi have become so well known that a viewer
would immediately identify them. However, his more recent paintings
provide the viewers with tow options. Ether deeply contemplate to
understand what he means to express, thus communicate, or just
simply enjoy the depiction without getting involved, thus be
I believe that this stage of Al-Kaabi's artistic development
reflects true maturity, integrity and vitality. In fact. I not only
believe in Al-Kaabi's competence but also expect more of his skill
and productivity. After all, non of the successes achieved during
his long artistic experience has managed to cease his search for
further achievements. For example, Al-Kaabi has enriched many of his
works with Arabic letters and calligraphy, a trend which forms one
of his inexhaustible sources of inspiration. This trend has been
gradually added to his paintings, used as ornamentation unites toad
further value and aesthetic element to his work. The Arabic letters
and calligraphy gradually grew more effective quantitatively
speaking, to such an extent that it intercrossed the canvases both
vertically and horizontally. Later, they were depicted within
variable geometrical formations, inter linked in such a unique way
which is typical of Al-Kaabi's skill. Still later, the Arabic
letters served in the artist's self expression, when he resorted to
I should point out that Al-Kaabi never employed the Arabic letters
and calligraphy merely to fill up or to decorate his painting. Nor
did he employ these elements to strike balance in his paintings on
the account of content or expressive aesthetic value. On the
contrary, he has added further value to the beauty and meaning of
the Arabic writing. Al-Kaabi has employed the Arabic writing in his
painting in such away that he has added beauty as well as meaning
fullness to his work. In this skill, he totally differs from my own
experience in this respect. For decades now I have been enriching my
Owen paintings with Arabic writing personally, I have transferred
the letters from my Own experience in this respect. For decades now
I have been enriching my Own paintings with Arabic writing
personally, I have transferred the letters from their phonetic value
to a pure artistic element, thus a letter or a word dose not
necessarily have to indicate its linguistic meaning.
As far as Al-Kaabi is concerned, he makes the Arabic writing define
his human figures and other shapes, which sometime even seem closer
in their formulations to the shapes of Arabic letters. Moreover, he
writes down the meaning of his visions, a style though which he has
added poeticism, rhythm and melody to his works. These elements make
the viewer enjoy the inter bland and harmony achieved between the
many elements, including the human figures, geometrical shapes,
architectural forms and the nature of desert. This illustrates how
much Al-Kaabi is deeply committed to meanings and expressions, which
appear in his paintings in the form of symbols. These symbols.
Create balance between intellectual, logical, sensual and emotional
values. They also often serve as a substitute for direct details,
which could overload the composition. He achieves this by
modification of the shapes of letters adding suitable colors here
and there. His most recent paintings have transformed the Arabic
writing into something like a reflection of the geometrical shapes
and human figure …..etc. the reflection, though simple, seems to
always be a positive element in achieving further balance between
the spiritual and symbolic values (which enrich the content and
intensify the indications), and the pure artistic values. The
variations powerful in the pieces of art of Al-Kaabi. The viewers
could always easily grasp the dramatic build up based on an Arab
folkloric and cultural aura.
This is clear in his earlier paintings, such as "Mughtada" (Angry)
as well as in his recent desert set and evening his most recent
murals displayed at the premises of the Arab Ba'th socialist party,
the VIPs guest palace, Saddam inter- national Airport and Baghdad
hotel, all in Baghdad.
The human figures have become the central theme in the latest works.
Man is an essential and vital creature in our world. He depict man
in his everyday life and man suffering contradictions. His works
point out the importance of adopting a stance or an attitude, which
forms a vital part of the life of contemporary artistic, economics
and culture. Such attitudes define the artists skill in choosing
style and becoming creative. After all, creativity is always
subjected to whether or not one is committed. Saadi Al-Kaabi
certainly is a committed artist, his commitment is a combination of
a stylistic, technical, social. Political, national and religious
beliefs enable an artist to be committed to his own art and thus
results in creativity based on harmonious elements.
Al-Kaabi was born 1937 in Al-Najaf (central Iraq), where he was
brought up amid of various contradictions. However, the boy grew up
to become a competent painter responsible for the Gallery – goers.
He has become one of the prominent Iraqi artists who through the art
of painting is adding to the Iraqi culture.
Paris, September 30, 1986