Born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1921, Faraj Abbo (Al Nu’man) is a renowned Iraqi artist who significantly contributed to the development of modern Iraqi art. Abbo’s artistic journey encompassed...
FARAJ ABBO, Iraq (1921 - 1984)
Written by Wafa Roz & Elsie Labban
Born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1921, Faraj Abbo (Al Nu’man) is a renowned Iraqi artist who significantly contributed to the development of modern Iraqi art. Abbo’s artistic journey encompassed various disciplines, including theater design, directing, literature, and fine arts, which would shape his multifaceted artistic identity. In 1950, he obtained a bachelor's degree from the College of Fine Arts in Cairo, Egypt.1. Seeking further artistic growth, Abbo relocated to Rome, Italy, and completed his postgraduate studies with honors at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1954. This fusion of education from both the East and the West would later manifest in his signature style, which skillfully combined elements of Iraqi heritage with international artistic trends.
Abbo's artistic talents became evident early on. In fact, he was commissioned to execute artworks for local churches in Mosul at the age of thirteen; examples of his paintings can be seen today at the Mar Eshai Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, officially headquartered in the city of Erbil, in northern Iraq.
Abbo's commitment to art education was as noteworthy as his artistic achievements. He played a pivotal role in founding the Institute of Fine Arts, which later became the Academy of Fine Art within the University of Baghdad 2. He served as the head of the Department of Plastic Arts and Deputy Dean for multiple terms 3. Additionally, he taught drawing at Baghdad University's Architectural Department. Abbo's passion for education extended beyond the classroom, as he authored the book The Elements of Art.4 , which became a fundamental reference for art students and researchers, emphasizing his dedication to nurturing the next generation of artists.
As Middle Eastern nations emerged from colonial rule, a nationalist sentiment took root, and artists sought to combine Western art techniques with local subject matter.5 . In this context, Iraqi artists, including Abbo, played a pivotal role in forging a national style that would inspire other Arab nations. They looked to their rich history for inspiration, incorporating Islamic art elements such as arabesque geometry and calligraphy into their compositions and drawing from folk tales and scenes from everyday life. 6
During the 1940s and 1950s, Abbo actively engaged with the Iraqi arts community and joined various art groups that played significant roles in shaping Iraqi modern art history 7. In 1944, he joined the Friends of Art Society, the first artists' group founded in Baghdad in 1941. The Friends of Art Society began the tradition of annual exhibitions, promoted fine art making in Baghdad, and were influenced by Russian painters, namely their figurative and symbolist approach 8. In 1954, Abbo joined the Baghdad Modern Art Group, or ‘Jamaat Baghdad lil-Fan al-Hadith,' founded in 1951 by renowned Iraqi artists Jewad Selim and Shaker Hassan Al Said. The Baghdad Modern Art Group aimed to develop contemporary national art inspired by the Iraqi cultural heritage whilst simultaneously incorporating Western modern art trends 9. These affiliations allowed Abbo to connect with like-minded artists and exchange ideas, fostering artistic growth and innovation.
However, Abbo's artistic journey took a transformative turn during his experiences in Russia. In the mid-1950's, he traveled to the nascent Soviet Union on his motorbike, immersing himself in the state-sponsored arts program and being exposed to socialist realism. This encounter left a profound impact on Abbo, inspiring him to create paintings that celebrated Iraqi popular culture and daily social life, reminiscent of the socialist realism practiced by Russian painters. However, his artistic style shifted remarkably in the early 1970's, when he started exploring more abstract choices influenced by Western artists like Mondrian and Kandinsky 10. This exploration culminated in his contribution to the development of Hurufiyya Art Movement. Artists of the Hurufiyya Art Movement incorporated Arabic calligraphy with modern abstract art; they adopted the Arabic letter as a point of departure and manipulated the calligraphic shapes into abstract shapes devoid of any legible meaning.
From his early portraiture work to his later abstract and geometric explorations, Abbo's oeuvre reflected a deep appreciation for the architectural heritage of Iraqi churches and mosques 11.
This is quite evident in Abbo's oil painting Haydar Khanah, Mosque 1961, or الحيدرخانة in Arabic, part of the Dalloul Art Foundation collection. The painting depicts a colorful interplay of architectural motifs representing the rich Iraqi culture. His compositions skillfully intertwined elements of Iraqi authenticity with contemporary artistic practices, providing a unique and thought-provoking perspective.
Throughout his career, Abbo participated in numerous exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, solidifying his status as a pioneering Iraqi artist. His artwork garnered international recognition and acclaim, and he became known for his ability to capture the essence of Iraqi life and culture.
Unfortunately, Abbo’s artworks faced a tragic fate when they were looted from the Baghdad Museum in 2003, and later discovered in the hands of children on the streets in Alawi Al-Hilla, in 2014.
Faraj Abbo passed away in 1984, leaving behind a substantial collection of artworks and a lasting impact on Iraqi art. His dedication to defending civilization through art and his unwavering belief in the power of artistic expression continue to inspire artists and art enthusiasts alike.
Today, Faraj Abbo's artistic legacy lives on, preserved in his extensive body of work and the influence he had on subsequent generations of Iraqi artists. Following in her father’s footsteps, Dr. Shetha Abbo Al Numan, pursued a career as a writer and artist 12. Nonetheless, Abbo's contributions to Iraqi art testify to his ability to bridge traditions and modernity while staying true to his Iraqi roots.
1 About Faraj Abbo." Faraj Abbo. Accessed July 10, 2023. https://farajabbo.com
2 “The University of Baghdad, History of the Faculty of Fine Arts." Iraqi Art Today, Ministry of
Information, 1972, p. 1934.
3 Al-Ali, and Al-Najjar, D., We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War. Syracuse University Press, 2013, p. 35.
4 Faraj Abbo Books". Faraj Abbo. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://farajabbo.com/books
5 King, E.A. and Levi, G., Ethics and the Visual Arts, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2010, p. 108.
6 Al-Khalil, S. and Makiya, K., The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq, University of California Press, 1991, pp 97-98.
7 Shabout, N.M., Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics, University of Florida Press, 2007, p. 28.
8 Feature: Iraqi Painter Faraj Abbo (1921-1984)." Isqineeha. Accessed July 10, 2023. https://isqineeha.tumblr.com
9 Kutbi, Loulwah. “The Baghdad Modern Art Group.” Mathqaf. July 29, 2021. Accessed July 24,
10 Habash, Najat. "فنان من بلادي”فرج عبّو النعمان. 2003. [An Artist from my Country “Faraj Abbo AL
Numan 2003]. Accessed July 10, 2023. bakhdida.ca.
11 Shetha, Abbo. "مقال عن لوحة جامع الحيدرخانة للفنان فرج عبو" [“Article on the Painting of the Al -Haidar Khanah Mosque by the Artist Faraj Abbo”]. Fine Arts. September 2, 2022. Accessed July, 2023. https://farajabbo.com/images
12 Rivera, Reynald. "Iraqi artist's retrospective in Doha." The Peninsula. May 12, 2009. Accessed
July 11, 2023. https://farajabbo.com/images
Reynolds, D.F. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Arab Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Tejel, J. Writing the Modern History of Iraq: Historiographical and Political Challenges. World Scientific, 2012.
King, E.A. and Levi, G. Ethics and the Visual Arts. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2010.
Shabout, N. "The 'Free' Art of Occupation: Images for a 'New' Iraq." Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3/4, 2006.
Ali, W. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. University of Florida Press, 1997.
The Leningrad School of Painting. Essays on the History. St Petersburg, ARKA Gallery Publishing, 2019.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Retrospective Exhibition works of Faraj Abbo Al Numan , Wakif Art Center, Doha, Qatar
An Honoring event patronized by the Ministry of Culture and Communication (Department of Contemporary Art), Baghdad Gallery for Contemporary Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Fifth Solo Exhibition – Faraj Abbo, Gulbenkian Hall, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Selected Group Exhibitions
Features of Self-Esteem: Portraits and Landscape Paintings, Jordanian National Museum of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Modern Iraqi Art: A Collection , Meem Gallery, Dubai
Exhibition of pioneers of Iraqi Art 2010, Qatar Fine Arts Society, Doha, Qatar
Bissan Gallery, Doha, Qatar
Aya Gallery, London, UK
معرض بغداد للرسم و النحت,نادي المنصور,Baghdad
Ibn Sena joint Exhibition , Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad, Iraq
-He participated in Baghdad first Biennale
-His artworks exist in Baghdad University, Iraqi Ministries, Baghdad Airport & Museums.
By the artist:
Kāmil ʻĀdil, and ʻAbbū Faraj. Faraj ʻAbbū. Baghdād: al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻIrāqīyah, Wizārat al-Thaqāfah wa-al-Iʻlām, Dāʼirat al-Funūn al-Tashkīlīyah, 1982.
ʻAbū Faraj. ʻIlm ʻanāṣir Al-Fann. Mīlānū: Dār Dalfīn, 1982.
Baghdad University, Iraq
Iraqi ministries, Iraq
Baghdad Airport, Iraq
Barjeel Art Foundation, U.A.E.
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Lebanon
Ibrahimi collection, Amman
Cultural Continuity in Modern Iraqi Painting between 1950- 1980
Shakiba Sharifian/Mehdi Mohammadzade/Silvia Naef/ Mostafa Mehraeen
Bagh-e Nazar, English, 2016
Wings and roots ; an adventure in art, literature and life
AuthorHouse UK Ltd., English, 2014
Excerpt p.28, 124, 136
The grass roots of Iraqi Art
Jabra I. Jabra
artiraq.org, English, 1986
المشاهد واللقطات المصورة بالأسود والأبيض في سياق الفيلم الملون ، مجلة القادسية في الآداب والعلوم التربوية
فراس عبد الجليل الشاروط
iasj.net, Arabic, 2009
جمالية عناصرالشكل في أعمال الفنان فرج عبو
حنين إحسان حسن كريدي
qu.edu.iq, Arabic, 2017
عبد الباسط سلمان
books.google.com.lb, Arabic, 2004
(علم عناصر الفن (الجزء الأول
Artist website, Arabic, 1982
Dolphin Publishers, Milano - Italy
(علم عناصر الفن (الجزء الثاني
Artist website, Arabic, 1982
Dolphin Publishers, Milano - Italy
معرض بغداد للرسم و النحت
Artist Website, Arabic, 1957
نادي المنصور، Baghdad
Fifth Solo Exhibition – Faraj Abbo, Gulbenkian Hall
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Baghdad, Iraq
An Honoring event patronized by the Ministry of Culture and Communication (Department of Contemporary Art)
Artist Website, Arabic, 1983
Baghdad Gallery for Contemporary Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Pioneers of Iraqi Art
Qatar Fine Arts Society
Artist Website, Arabic, 2010
الجوانب الإنسانية في أعمال الفنان فرج عبو
الشرق, Arabic, 2004
From (artist website)
العثورعلى لوحة مفقودة للفنان فرج عبو من أصل 7 ألاف سرقت عام 2003
Iraq Press Agency العراق وكالة ال, Arabic, 2018
وزارة الثقافة تستعيد لوحة نادرة للفنان العراقي فرج عبو
https://www.ninanews.com/website, Arabic, 2014
كاظم شمهود: فرج عبو من اقطاب الفن العراقي المعاصر
د. كاظم شمهود
http://www.almothaqaf.com, Arabic, 2016
المفتش العام لوزارة الثقافة يتسلم لوحة تشكيلية مفقودة للفنان الرائد فرج عبو
Ministry of Culture of Iraq, Arabic, 2014
لقاء مع الفنّان فرج عبو
Al-Aqlam_Year 1 No 10, Arabic, 1965
ذكرى وفاة الفنان فرج عبو النعمان.. ابنته شذى كلمتنا
فتيان اكرم الفتيان
الفنون الجميلة, Arabic, 2018
FEATURE: IRAQI ARTIST FARAJ ABBO
مواطن يسلم وزارة الثقافة العراقية لوحة مفقودة للفنان الرائد فرج عبو
http://artsgulf.com, Arabic, 2014
نقوش تتواءم مع الذات
http://imamhussain.org, Arabic, 2016
هذا هو هو الفنان فرج عبو
http://almadasupplements.com, Arabic, 2015
رﺳﺎﻣﻮن ﻋﺮاﻗﻴﻮن ﻓﻲ ﻣﻌﺮض ﻟﻨﺪﻧﻲ
مشهد منوع بلوحات كبار التشكيليين العرب و القطريين
Arrayah, Arabic, 2003
افتتاح معرض فن صيف قطر
محمد الربيع محمد صالح
الوطن, Arabic, 2003
بانوراما تشكيلية متميزة تجمع الرولد مع المدارس الحداثية و ما بعدها
الشرق, Arabic, 2003
Announcement of the exhibition, Peninsula
The Peninsula, English, 2009
In the glorious world of Iraqi artist
Qatar Tribune, English, 2009
عائلة الفنان العراقي الاحل فرج عبو تعرض أعماله في مركز واقف للفنون
معرض استعادي للراحل فرج عبو أحد أعلام جماعة بغداد للفن الحديث
الوطن, Arabic, 2009
From Artist Website
معرض تشكيلي يستعـيد ذكرى العـراقي فـرج عبو
Modern Iraqi Art / A Collection
Meem Gallery, English, 2013
13 May - 27 June 2013
الأميرة لع ميري تفتتح معرض لرواد الفن التشكيلي العربي
عمان – سيدتي. نت, Arabic, 2017
FARAJ ABBO Artwork
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