ضياء العزاوي

رسم الشعر


Open now until 11 Jun 2023

Gallery 8

Admission is FREE

The Arab world's most influential living artist

Dia al-Azzawi is an internationally recognised Iraqi painter and sculptor who has been living and working in London since the late 1970s. Best known for monumental and colourful canvasses, his work spans many genres, including a type of artist books known in Arabic as 'dafatir'.

A combination of painting and text, dafatir take various forms – accordions, square and oblong booklets, cigar boxes or other sculptural assemblages – but are not meant to be read or viewed in a traditional way. Rather than illustrating the poetry within, which is usually drawn from the pre-Islamic traditions or based on collaborations with contemporary poets, the paintings are free and emotive responses to it.


Painted concertina paper artwork by the artist Dia al-Azzawi

'A Rose of Black Lace: Amjad Nasser' by Dia al-Azzawi, 1999. Concertina with sculptural case, gouache & ink on paper, wood & plaster © Azzawi 1999, photography Anthony Dawton


This exhibition explores the development of dafatir over 40 years of artistic production and considers the evolution of Azzawi’s distinctive pictorial language – a fusion of words and images – which would come to dominate much of his work. Therefore, the installation also includes drawings, prints and a monumental ten-metre tapestry immortalising the impact of war on the city of Mosul and displayed in public for the first time.

Inside the Dia al-Azzawi exhibition showing a long shot of the gallery space with the 10-metre tapestry and end 'blue' display of dafatir books

Inside the exhibition gallery

One of the colourful concertina 'dafatir' book displays in the Dia al-Azzawi Painting Poetry exhibition

© Ashmolean, photos Hannah Pye




An additional display in the Islamic Middle East Gallery 31, designed as a companion display to the Dia al-Azzawi: Painting Poetry exhibition, explores the impact of dafatir on a younger generation of Iraqi artists.

Header image: 'Of Layla: Qasim Haddad' by Dia al-Azzawi, 1998. Concertina, gouache & ink on paper, acrylic on foamboard. © Azzawi 1998, photography Anthony Dawton


Click on each image to view the full artwork

Exhibition curator Dr Francesca Leoni says: "Dafatir represent an unusual and rather ‘fluid’ artistic genre – neither entirely book nor entirely sculpture. They speak to past traditions such as Islamic illustrated manuscripts, and yet they also fully embrace modern aesthetics and contemporary concerns. As such they have become a thriving space for artistic expression and experimentation, as well as a site for defiance and resilience when produced in reaction to violence and conflict."

This exhibition was developed in collaboration with Dia al-Azzawi's studio

Exhibition generously supported by:

Kinda Foundation

Saeb Eigner
And donors who wish to remain anonymous

With special thanks to Dia al-Azzawi, his studio and family



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