B. 1923 in Damascus, Syria, D.1988 in Damascus, Syria
Interviewee: Lubna Hammad
Facebook: Mahmoud Hammad
And Instagram: mahmoudhammadart
List of personal Exhibitions:
1953 – Exhibition at the Syrian Society of Fine Arts” Société Syrienne des Beaux Art” in Damascus. Damascus- Syria
1967 – Exhibition at The International Documentation Centre. UNESCO, Paris- France. Peinture de voyage
1968 – Exhibition at Gallery Urnina. Damascus- Syria
1968 – Exhibition at Gallery One. Beirut- Lebanon
1969 – Exhibition of the Syrian-Soviet Friendship Society. Syrian Cultural Week in Soviet Armenia Yerevan
1972 – Old and New Works Exhibition at Gallery Urnina. Damascus- Syria
1982 – Exhibition at Gallery Ugarit. Damascus– Syria
1985 – Exhibition at Gallery Ebla. Damascus- Syria
2015 – Art Dubai 2015, Modern. AUE- Dubai
2018 – Mahmoud Hammad at Ishtar Gallery (1940–1954). Damascus,22-10-2018
Essays and Articles:
– Al Hayat Al Tashkeelyyah, La Vie De L’Art Plastique . A seasonal magazine published by The Syrian General Organization of Books, the Ministry of Culture in Damascus. Article by Tarek Al Sharif. Issue No 29-30-31-32. 1987-1988. Pages 23-26.
– Al Hayat Al Tashkeelyyah, La Vie De L’Art Plastique. A seasonal magazine published by The Syrian General Organization of Books, the Ministry of Culture in Damascus. Pages 15-22. Article by Khalil Safiyyeh. Issue No 29-30-31-32. 1987-1988.
– The Contemporary Art in Syria. Gallery Atassi in Damascus. 1998. Pages 102-107.
– A Half Century of Art Creativity. By Mamdouh Kashlan- Damascus-2006. Pages 69-78.
– Revival of Plastic Art Memory in Syria. Selection from the National Museum Collection in Damascus. Damascus 2008 Arab Capital of Culture. pages 183-196.
–The Arabic Calligraphy by Dr. Mahmoud Shahin. Damascus 2012. Article, pages 63-70.
منعطف الستينات في تاريخ الفنون الجميلة المعاصرة – في سورية. محمود حماد وكلمتان على مسار فنه. د. عبد العزيزعلون- صدر عام ٢٠٠٤ دمشق – منشورات الدار
١- الثقافي لمجموعة دعدوش العالمية. ص ١٦٩
Many other articles about Hammad were published in magazines and daily newspapers by artists and critics like: Nassir Chaura, Nazir Naba’a, Abdulkader Arnaout, Elias Al-Zayyat, Hyam Nawwar, Dr.Salim Abdulhak, Dr. Afif Bahnasi, Dr. Ali Al Sarmini, Dr. Salman Kataya, Guido La regina, Farouq Al Bukayli, Gazi Al Khaldi, Lor Gharib (L’orient), Hassan Kamal, Andre Berkoff, Vittore Querel, Ghada Al- Samman, Nazih Khater, Robin Smith (Daily Star), Asaad Orabi, Fateh Al-Moudaress, Dr. Khaled Al-Maz anf Farouk Yousef, Dr.Abd Al-Aziz Alloun, Saad Alkassem who recently wrote about Hammad, and many others.
– 1976 Awarded with the “Knight Commander Award”, “Commendatore” from the Republic of Italy
– 1977 The “Syrian Highest Medal of Merit in Arts and Literature”
– 1989 The “Syrian First-Class Order of Merit” by the Syrian Republic after his decease.
–Syria: The Prime Ministry, The Ministry of Tourism, The Ministry of Culture, The Ministry
of Education, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Supreme Council for the Welfare of Arts and Letters, The
General Directorate of Antiques and Museums, The Arab Cultural Center, The National Museum in Damascus,
The Directory of Fine Arts in Damascus.
–Lebanon: Dalloul Art Foundation
–Jordan: Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Amman, Jordan
–Sharjah: Islamic Civilization Museum in Sharjah, UAE (From the collection of Barjeel Art Foundation)
–UAE: Barjeel Art Foundation, Atassi Foundation.
–Qatar: Mathaf Museum, Arab Museum for Modern Art. Qatar, Doha
–Egypt- Lebanon – Algeria – Iraq (Ministry of
Culture) -Kuwait – Saudi Arabia (Riyadh)
–United Kingdom: British Museum.
–Italy: Rome – Center of Italian-Arab Relations
–France: Syrian Embassy in Paris International Documentation Center in Paris National Commission for UNESCO
-Chile – Berlin – Switzerland – USA – Soviet Union (Azerbaijan) – Yugoslavia
Private and Public Collections worldwide.
THE ARCHIVE INCLUDES:
A total of 3060 works by Hammad
·1065 photos from different periods including photos of Syrian artists as well as artists from the Middle East and Europe
·100 scans of exhibitions catalogues, brochures, flyers and invitation cards, scans of publications of Hammad’s works and articles about
Hammad in books, magazines and newspapers
·Around 65 interviews with Hammad and other artists, articles and translations written by Hammad (some of them with his hand writing) as
well as articles about Hammad’s work
·More than 300 correspondences, reports and documents
·Other artworks including paintings, graphics works, medallions, medals, design of monuments, jewelries, stamps, book covers, etc.
·A high-resolution image of the artwork
·Basic information: Title, year, dimensions, medium, signature and provenance (public
collections, private collections and unknown last location)
·A picture of the verso of the work is added if it has useful information
·Exhibitions: The title, location, and date of the exhibition in addition to scan of the
exhibition catalogue or flyer, invitation card and related pictures when available
·Publications referring to the artwork: The title, author, location and date of the publication
is provided, in addition to the PDF file of the publication when available
·More related information when available such as awards, related pictures, related
artworks in different media and any related correspondences and documents
Biography of Mahmoud Hammad
Born in Damascus in 1923, the Syrian multi-skilled artist Mahmoud Hammad was a painter, a printmaker, a medal engraver and a sculptor. Hammad attended the Italian School of Damascus and Jawdat al Hashemi secondary school in Tajheez where his professors, given his remarkable talent, encouraged him from an early age to study art.
At the age of sixteen, Hammad traveled to Italy for the first time where he discovered history of art and paintings by renowned foreign artists and his passion subsequently grew tremendously. But the war forced him to return to his homeland where in 1941, he participated in his first group exhibition in the halls of the Law Institute of Damascus and met fellow artist Nassir Chaura (1920-1992) with whom he maintained a long-lasting friendship. In 1941, both artists partnered to establish the “Atelier Veronese” in the center of Damascus, and later initiated the “Syrian Art Association”, where contemporary artists would gather to learn, discuss ideas, find inspiration and create works of art.
Mahmoud Hammad and Nassir Chaura exhibited together a few times during their lifetime and one of their most impactful shows was at the “Club Al Sa’ad in Aleppo” in 1951, at a time when Hammad had settled there to teach art in schools. The exhibition caught the attention of many art critics and collectors, and soon after Hammad was selected for the first “Autumn Exhibition” to be held in the “National Museum of Damascus” where he was granted the first prize for his work entitled “Maaloula”.
In 1953, following his acclaimed exhibitions, Hammad participated in his first solo show at the ” Syrian Society of Fine Arts ” and a few months later, he was granted a scholarship from the ministry of education in Damascus to the “Accademia di Belle Arti” in Rome and settled in the Italian capital until 1957. While he studied painting, mural art, printmaking and medal engraving, Hammad also took part in exhibitions, received many prizes and acquainted other Arab artists including Adham Ismail (1922-1963) with whom he traveled to Andalusia.
Upon his return from Rome, Hammad married the Lebanese artist Durriya Fakhoury and in 1958, they returned to Syria and Hammad became an art professor in Dara’a where he lived for two years and started a series of paintings depicting the social scenes of the Southern area of Horan. In 1960, he moved back to Damascus and helped with the establishment of the first “Faculty of Fine Art”. In 1967, a UNESCO grant led him again to Europe for few months, this time again Rome, Madrid and Paris where he encountered renowned contemporary European artists and his works were shown to a new foreign audience.
Back in Damascus, Mahmoud Hammad alongside Nassir Chaura and Elias Zayat founded the Damascus Group (Group D.) in 1965, an affiliation of Syrian Abstract artists and soon after, in 1970 Hammad was appointed Dean of the “Faculty of Fine Art” where he remained until 1980.
Awarded with the “Knight Commander Award”, “Commendatore” from the Republic of Italy in 1976, with the “Syrian Highest Medal of Merit in Arts and Literature” in 1977 and the “Syrian First-Class Order of Merit” by the Syrian Republic in 1989 after his decease. Mahmoud Hammad was acclaimed internationally during his lifetime. Posthumously, the Syrian Government granted him a few other prizes for arts and culture.
Mahmoud Hammad undeniably, considered today as a pioneer of Modern Syrian Art and one of the most important and influential artists of Modern Arab Art and Arab Abstraction, depicted abstract compositions that revealed an extraordinary balance between form and colour and evoked both his academic and aesthetic savoir-faire.
*Biography and description of Hammad’s work by Elias Zayat, quoted from the Syrian Arabic Encyclopedia – Translated by Bibi Zavieh and Hala Khayat, published in Christie’s Catalogue ” Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian, Turkish Art ” 2014, sale 1230 – Dubai, UAE, edited by Lubna Hammad.
Interview with Lubna Hammad
I have been working on the estate of Mahmoud Hammad for the last 12 years. When you start an artist’s estate, first of all you have to be familiar with the vision and the goals of the artist, which in my father’s case are contained in his papers, writings and articles.
My father’s studio was at home, so each work has a memory for me. He was very elegant when painting, as he would wear a suit and tie. I used to watch him at work and that’s why it is very easy for me to recognise authentic works. My husband and I are both architects and my son as well. During my first year at the Faculty of Architecture, Hammad used to solicit my opinion on his works. I didn’t know much at the time, but he used to give me the confidence to state my opinion on the concept, colours and design. Many works are close to my heart, particularly one that is entitled “Ikal Wa Tawakal”.
It is also important to consider how to run the estate, what its objective is, and how to keep it alive for coming generations. Funding is a fundamental issue: digitisation, storing the physical works, documenting and archiving all take time and require a budget. The estate is not a legal entity. We felt there was no need to register it as it is a personal project that does not receive external finance. It is funded by sales of works that we consign to auction or that are exhibited, and family budget. Most private or family estates are small, run by the family or friends of the artist.
In order to begin, we needed a structure as we had diverse works – on canvas, panel, paper, as well as sketches, graphic works and designs for postage stamps, monuments, magazines, logos, and medals – spanning a period of 50 years. We started by organising the works in folders, divided into four periods: the Beginnings which was from 1939 to 1953, then Rome, where he studied art, from 1953 to 1957, then the Horan period from 1957 to 1963, and finally the Calligraphy period from 1963 until his death in 1988.
The next step was to have a professional photographer in Damascus who photographed all the paintings that we had in the studio so we could get high resolution images. Then we started documenting and archiving the works on paper, including documents, letters and photos. We had a lot of documents and correspondence as Hammad had been the dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts for 10 years and before that he contributed to founding art associations in Syria in the 1940s and 1950s.
We discovered that after finishing works Hammad would photograph them. We went through all the photos, slides and negatives, and scanned them. He had also kept internal records, documenting where works were registered, the places they were exhibited, what was sold, published, and the names of the owners. This allowed us to record the works we had information for, in terms of the details, exhibitions, publication and provenance.
In many cases we found details for paintings for which we couldn’t find images, so we left these blank until we could find the correct images to match the details. There are around 3,060 works archived on canvas, panel, and paper, and we still have some designs that are not archived yet.
At this point we felt it was time to name the archive and give it a purpose. In 2016, I attended a conference in Berlin, held by The Institute for Artists’ Estates, which was extremely useful in terms of the knowledge it gave me. Archiving is never-ending work, I continuously update the archives and keep abreast of exhibitions, auctions, publications. So far, I am managing the estate in a peaceful way, and receive advice from art curators, galleries, friends, and art historians. We provide certificates of authenticity when asked, so far free of charge, to encourage more people to let us see what they have in their collection. Another major reason why we provide certificates of authenticity relates to people contacting me with regard to possible forgeries. The number of fakes is not that big, at least to my knowledge, and it is easy to spot them.
We created a Facebook and Instagram page for Hammad. The archives include some information about the other artists in the region, they are also a tribute to all generations relating to Mahmoud Hammad: the previous generation because they had a passion and worked under difficult circumstances, especially between the First and Second World Wars, and they had this persistence to work in art. Not many of them are very well known, but they all worked very hard for this cause.
Initially, the idea was to publish a printed catalogue raisonné. However, I found that this would be challenging in terms of funding. Additionally, since any catalogue raisonné expires the minute you publish it, an online one would be more feasible to run and update. Currently, the online material is accessible to everyone, but not the entire archives. Having said that, I provide information upon request to scholars, art historians, students, museums and galleries, and hope to make the archive publicly available in the future.
Images are courtesy of Lubna Hammad
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #59 MODERN ART AND ARTIST ESTATES: WAYS, WORKS AND ARCHIVES – VOL I