Being Dia al-Azzawi: Chapter 3: The Literary Artist

Untitled (Nadia Tuéni), 1990, gouache on paper, 60 x 112 cm

The transition into the 1990s saw Dia al-Azzawi embark on a remarkable journey that bridged the gap between visual and literary art forms. This transformative period witnessed Azzawi’s immersion into the daftar, a unique artist’s book that amalgamated visual art with the written word, predominantly drawing inspiration from contemporary Arabic poetry.

Excursion Across Time: Talal Haidar, 1991 Hand-coloured lithograph on paper; acrylic and silkscreen on fabric-covered paperboard 39.5 x 29 x 3 cm, edition of 10

Lebanon, a nation with its own complex narrative and a rich tradition of artistic expression, naturally found its way into Azzawi’s art. The palpable aura of resilience amidst adversity, a hallmark of Lebanon’s spirit, resonated deeply with Azzawi’s own exploration of themes like injustice and the human condition. The works of poets who emerged from or wrote about Lebanon became the threads that interwove his artistry with the country’s essence. The stirring verses of Lebanese poet Khalil Hawi’s The Bridge found an echo in Azzawi’s creations, as he captured the spirit of connection and the yearning for unity even in the face of divisions.

As the 1990s unfolded, Lebanon’s influence on Azzawi’s work became even more pronounced. The country’s vibrant artistic scene provided him with a platform to showcase his fusion of literature and visual art, such as his solo exhibition at the 50×70 Gallery in Beirut in 1991, later followed by a travelling solo exhibition in 1994 hosted by the same gallery.

Through his dafatir, Azzawi’s compositions embodied a unique form of storytelling, drawing inspiration from Lebanese literary luminaries like Nadia Tuéni and Salah Stétié, who transcended borders and languages. Their words, intricately woven into his creations, showcased the universality of human emotions and the shared narratives that transcend geographical confines.

This journey through Azzawi’s transformation into a literary artist during the 1990s to the present is as much a tribute to his creative genius as it is a testament to Lebanon’s enduring influence on his oeuvre.

Selections from the Poetry of Salah Stétié, 1995–1996 Gouache and ink on paper; acrylic on paperboard with cutouts 37.5 x 26 x 3.5 cm

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