HANAA MALALLAH, Iraq (1958)
Written by Liam Sibai
Hanaa Malallah was born in 1958 in Thi Qar, a desert province in the southeast of Iraq. When she was five years old the artist and her family moved to Baghdad, where she had a creative childhood; she practiced embroidery with her mother from a young age, developing skills that would become useful later in her career. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1988 from the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts, where she studied both painting and graphic design under artists Faik Hassan and Shakir Hassan Al Said, and later earned a master’s degree in painting (2000) and a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Painting from the University of Iraq (2005). After finishing her thesis, Malallah lectured at the University of Baghdad and became the director of the graphic arts department at Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Arts, a position she held until she left Iraq in 2006.
Unfortunately, the decision to leave Iraq was not made under happy circumstances. Instead, the artist was forced to leave her home country after receiving threats from a fundamentalist militia group, which considered her sacrilegious as a female professor of art. After a brief residency in Paris, Malallah was offered a fellowship at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, a city she has come to call home. She now splits her time between the English capital and Manama, Bahrain, where she teaches art at the Royal University for Women. Despite her engagement with explicitly political themes, Malallah insists that she is not a political artist, insofar as she strives only to reflect political realities in her work rather than using it to advocate a particular stance or perspective.
Along with Nedim Kufi, Nazar Yahya, Kareem Risan, and others, Malallah is generally considered part of the “Eighties Generation” of Iraqi artists. The work of this generation, as the artist herself attests, was largely shaped by the immobilizing impact of three successive wars that prevented artists from traveling for thirty years, forcing them to complete their educations entirely in Iraq where previous generations had often benefited from educational opportunities abroad. For the first half of her career, Malallah was confined to a culturally secluded Iraq by a series of sanctions and travel bans. Like many artists of her generation, Malallah’s early work tackles the physicality and symbolism of war and violence, both modern and antiquated, through mixed media. In keeping with the priorities of many other “eighties artists,” Hanna Malallah placed Arab and Iraqi heritage and iconography at the center of her contemporary images during this period, creating work that was more bound to the canvas and the paintbrush than it has been in recent years.
In her current practice, Malallah often uses the very material of her work to announce her subject of critique, such as in her public installation Biohazard Air Sculpture(2016). This balloon-like sculpture, which hovered above Beirut’s Saneyeh Park, is made of industrial plastic – itself a potential waste product – that traps air in the shape of the biohazard symbol. The plastic is printed with the logos of multi-national companies, pointing to the relationship between neoliberal capitalism and waste production. In works such as Illuminated Ruins (2013) and A Moment of Light(2015), the artist uses a self-developed “ruins technique,” which involves the folding and burning of canvas to create different colors and textures. In discussing her experiences of war, Malallah articulated that ruination highlights the existence of physical structures as symbols, and not simply as realistic architectural bodies. She also uses taxidermy in her art practice, sometimes as a means of secularizing the iconic hoopoe bird, which appears in the Qur’an. False Peace(2013) parodies the symbol of the dove carrying an olive branch by displaying a hoopoe perched on the handle of a heavy tin container of olive oil.
The skepticism expressed by False Peace is present in the artist’s approach to many political subjects. Like many contemporary Iraqi artists, Malallah uses art as a means of critiquing the United States, whose imperialistic military escapades in Iraq irrevocably shaped the artist’s life. In USA Flag(2013) she repeatedly inflates and empties a balloon striped and colored in the fashion of an American flag. In USA Heritage Flag(2012), a pair of shoes are embroidered on the top left corner of an American flag, in the area reserved for the flag’s fifty stars. This references a 2008 incident in which Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi’s hurled both of his shoes at former United States President George W. Bush, calling it “a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people.” Al-Zaidi threw the shoes in response to Bush’s continued defense of the Iraq War, which he insisted was a necessary step towards world peace.
In addition to burned canvas, industrial plastic, embroidery, and taxidermy, Hanaa Malallah also works with video and photography. Her Visual Equipment for War(2018) video shows a Muslim woman praying in the Imperial War Museum in London, whileDrone hits the Great Ziggurat of Ur (2016) consists of footage both from and of a drone flying around Thi Qar’s ancient structure, investigating the current nature of antiquity, museumification, and violence. Though much of her work deals with political subject matter, the artist also expresses a mystical side; in 2013, for example, she had her name tattooed on her forearm in a numeral codification traditionally used for astronomy and divination. ‘18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199’ is frequented repeated in much of her work and has become a sort of signature of the artist, even appearing next to the artist’s name on her website.
Today, Hanaa Malallah lives, creates and works between London and Bahrain.
"Back to Artists." Biography - Hanaa Malallah. Accessed June 19, 2019. http://www.albareh.com/en/arti...
Farzan, Antonia Noori. "10 Years Ago, an Iraqi Journalist Threw His Shoes at George W. Bush and Instantly Became a Cult Figure." The Washington Post. December 14, 2018. Accessed July 05, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com... Malallah." Widewalls. Accessed June 19, 2019. https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/hanaa-malallah/.
"Hanaa Malallah." Barjeel Art Foundation. Accessed June 19, 2019. https://www.barjeelartfoundation.org/artist/iraq/hanaa-malallah/.
"Hanaa Malallah." The Park Gallery. February 14, 2018. Accessed June 19, 2019. http://theparkgallery.com/arti...
History. Accessed June 19, 2019. http://hanaa-malallah.com/hist...
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Without Name, But, Numbers, Albareh Art Gallery, Manama, Bahrain
Drone Hits Ziggurat of UR, Al Riwaq Art Space, Manama, Bahrain
From Figuration to Abstraction, Park Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Biohazard, DOLPH projects, London, United Kingdom
Works on Paper, The Park Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Solo Exhibition, The Park Gallery, London, United Kingdom
The Art of Destruction, Inception Gallery, Paris, France
Vivid Ruins, The Mosaic Rooms, Qattan Foundation, London, United Kingdom
Exhibition at Albareh Art Gallery, Manama, Bahrain
Exhibition at Anda Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Anda Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Drawing, Athar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Schedules and Signals, Athar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Icons of Environment, Hiwar Art Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Abaad Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Pursuing the Trace, Atelier Nadhar, Baghdad, Iraq
Baghdad: Geography People Symbols, Centre for Arts, Baghdad, Iraq
Museum Visits Documents, Centre for Arts, Baghdad, Iraq
Selected Group Exhibitions
Co-Existent Ruins: exploring Iraqi’s Mesopotamian Past through Contemporary Art,SOASBrunei Gallery, London, UK
The Spirit of the Poet, Zentrum für verfolgte Künste, Germany
Refuge and Renewal: Migration and British Art, The Royal West of England Academy (RWA), UK
Theater of Operations, The Gulf Wars 1991–2011, MoMA PS1, New York, USA
Bagdad mon Amour, Institut des Cultures d'Islam, Paris, France
Thread of Light, P21 Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Arabesque,Curated by Hanaa Malallah, The Royal University for Women, Riffa, Bahrain
Exhibition at the National Museum of Bahrain, Manama, Bahrain
I AM,organized by Caravan, Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman Jordan
I AM,organized by Caravan, American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington DC, USA
Art in Motion, Vol. 1 Resistance & Persistance, Al Sanayeh Garden, Beirut, Lebanon
Reflections of War, Flowers Gallery, London, United Kingdom
A Tribute to Rafa Nasiri, Nabha Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Exhibition at Meem Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tajreed,CAP Kuwait, Kuwait
Ten Year After: Reflections on the Invasion of Iraq, Chelsea College of Arts & Design London University, London, United Kingdom
Iraq: How, Where, for Whom? with Kennard Phillips, Qattan Foundation, The Mosaic Rooms, London, United Kingdom
Exhibition at Swiss Re (Gherkin), London, United Kingdom
Caravan, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Art in Iraq Today (Conclusion Show), Meem Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Art in Iraq Today, Beirut Exhibition Centre, Beirut, Lebanon
Art in Iraq Today, Meem Gallery, Dudai, United Arab Emirates
Beyond The War,LTMH Gallery, New York, United States of America
The Recessionists, Somerset, England
Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University in the City of New York, United States of America
Iraqi Artist in Exile, Station Museum, Houston, Texas, US
Iraq’s Past Speaks to the Present, British Museum, London, United Kingdom
Sophisticated Ways: Destruction of an Ancient City, Aya Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Green Zone Red Zone, Gemak Den Haag, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, Texas College, Tyler, Texas, United States of America
Contemporary Iraqi Exhibition, Paris, France
Iraqi Exhibition, East and West Foundation, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Ashes to Art: The Iraqi Phoenix, Pomegranate Gallery, New York, USA
Celebrating the Creativity of the Collaboration Between Iraqi Art and Literature, Frankfurt, Germany Homage to Shakir Hassan, Orfly Art Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Miniatures of Iraqi Art, Dijlah Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
The Hundredth, Hiwar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Before. After. Now, Deluxe Gallery, Hoxton Square, London, United Kingdom
Women Artists from the Islamic World, UNESCO, Spain
Tawashujat: Between Poet and Artists, The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Expressions of Hope: Iraqi Art, Aya gallery, London, United Kingdom
Contemporary Iraqi Art in China
Exhibition at Baghdad International Festival for Contemporary Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Exhibition at Conference of Creative Arab Women, Tunisia
Strokes of Genius: Contemporary Iraqi Art, Brunei Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Contemporary Iraqi Art, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Significance of Experimentation, Baghdad Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Co-Exhibition, Ghassan Ghaeb and Kareem Risan, Ather Gallary, Baghdad
Centre for Arts, Baghdad, Iraq
The Royal Jordanian Museum, Jordan
The British Museum, UK
Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, Ar-Rayyan, Qatar
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Ibrahimi Collection, Amman, Jordan
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Honorary Award/ The South Lebanese Cultural Council, Lebanon
First Prize in Painting / The Eighth Festival of Al-Wasiti, Iraq
Honorary Award from Artists’ Union
Honorary / Ain Gallery – Baghdad, Iraq
1984 – 1985
Prize of Arab Organization of Education, Culture & Sciences