Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi has received rave reviews for a comprehensive retrospective at Qatar Museums that charts 50 years of diverse artistic output

Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi’s long-anticipated retrospective at Qatar Museums opened on October 16 to rave reviews. Curated by Catherine David, deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre, I am the cry, who will give voice to me? showcases more than 500 works spanning 50 years and is the largest ever solo exhibition of an Arab artist.

Housed at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and Al Riwaq, the retrospective is a significant tribute to an artist who has not yet gained the recognition he deserves in the West, despite his profound influence on a generation of Arab artists.

Born in Baghdad in 1939 and based in London since 1976, Azzawi is one the most successful Iraqi artists and a crucial figure in the development of Arab modernism. His mural-sized drawing Sabra and Shatila Massacre, created to document the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, has been compared to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. The work was acquired by the Tate in 2012, but is on loan to Qatar Museums and forms one of the highlights of a stunning exhibition.

The retrospective, which continues until April 16, 2017, has created a stir with local and international audiences and been met with rave reviews. The artist described the retrospective as a “manifesto” against the events following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, when tens of thousands of priceless artefacts were stolen from the national museum in Baghdad over a period of frenzied looting lasting 36 hours. He described the destruction of antiquities as “a crime against humanity.”

The retrospective casts a light on the history of the region over the past half century, and aims to map an itinerary of modernist through profiling Azzawi’s diverse practice. One half of the exhibition traces the emergence of a relationship between text and image in Azzawi’s work, and the other follows his engagement with key moments in the political history of Iraq and the Arab world, especially Palestine.

By Irene McConnell