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Dalloul Art Foundation

ISMAEL FATTAH, Iraq (1934 - 2004)


Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, Ismael Fattah Al Turk began his studies at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad in 1952. Prior to his graduation in 1958, when he earned degrees in both painting and...


Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, Ismael Fattah Al Turk began his studies at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad in 1952. Prior to his graduation in 1958, when he earned degrees in both painting and sculpture, the young artist was a student of pioneering Iraqi modernist Jewad Selim. From 1961 to 1964, Fattah pursued further studies in Rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti, where he focused on sculpture, and then at the Accademia San Giacomo, also in Rome, where he studied ceramics. Upon his return to Iraq in the mid-1960s, he began his tenure at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he taught ceramics and sculpture until the 1990s.

Throughout his career, Ismael Fattah was an active participant in a number of artists’ groups and organizations, working to promote the art of Iraq and the Arab world both within the Middle East and globally. He became President of the Society of Iraqi Artists in 1971, overseeing the al-Mirbid Poetry Festival in Basra (1971) and the al-Wasiti Festival in Baghdad (1972) before the end of his term in 1978. Fattah was also a member of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art and became a founding member of the New Vision group in 1969. Created by Fattah and several fellow Iraqi artists, including Dia al-Azzawi and Rafa al-Nasiri, New Visions arose in response to the crushing defeat of Arab forces by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. The shocking outcome of the conflict dealt a heavy blow to Arab society writ large, and to the dreams of pan-Arabism in particular. The artists of New Visions sought to combat this sense of devastation by portraying their people and their region in a new, revolutionary light, focusing on the promises of Pan-Arab cultural unity as they looked towards the future rather than dwelling on the past. Fattah, like many artists at the time, was a deeply politically engaged individual, and never shied away from addressing his beliefs in his artwork.

Much like his mentor, Jewad Selim, Fattah experimented with both painting and sculpture. Selim influenced him greatly, and Fattah paid tribute to the artist in multiple dedicated works after his death in 1963. 1989’s Homage to Jewad Selim, for example, honors his late teacher through allusion to Selim’s 1961 Freedom Monument. Painted in bright, high-contrast oils on cardstock, Fattah’s figures ­­–a human and a horse– seem almost jubilant in their movements as if rejoicing in the discovery of freedom. Though rendered in a style distinctly his own, Fattah’s work captures the essence of the Baghdad monument’s statuesque characters, which had come to represent Iraqi national identity. The 1989 painting was part of a larger project of the same name, which included the work of numerous Iraqi artists. Among the participants in the project was Fattah’s wife, Lisa, a German expatriate whose bold, expressive style had a significant influence on her husband’s work.

Fattah’s oeuvre centers mainly on his perceptions of the human condition, often teeming with unspoken emotion. His work often seems to remove the “outer layers” of his subjects in order to understand their inner cores; he rendered nudity and the human form in a minimalistic, pared-down style as if whittling away all unnecessary detail in search of his subject’s essence. Many of his paintings, as well as his sculptures, suggest a fascination with facial features, which he used as a way to play with abstraction, colors, and perspective, upending aesthetic and thematic expectations. In some paintings, a grid of faces wearing muted expressions that stand in sharp contrast with the work’s bright, striking color palette. In others,  various iterations of masks cover his subject’s face, isolating the figure from the world around it. A sculptural example of this tendency is seen in Homage to Picasso (1971), in which a tall figure stands proudly but holds a hefty block that obscures its face and identity. Evoking a range of forms echoed in sources as diverse as Mesopotamian sculpture and the oeuvre of Henry Moore, his artwork was not just an extension of local cultural heritage, but also bore the imprints of international artists and art movements.

Among the artist’s best-known works are several government-commissioned public sculptures in Baghdad. In 1972, Fattah created several monuments in honor of prominent figures of Iraqi heritage, including Abu Nuwas, Abu Nasr al-Farabi, and Yahya al-Wasiti. Ten years later, in 1982, he was responsible for public works celebrating ancient Arabic medicine and Iraq’s two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Among many other public sculptures, his most celebrated and recognizable is the Nasb al-Shaheed, or Martyrs’ Monument, which was commissioned by Saddam Hussein in 1983 to honor Iraqi soldiers who died in the Iran-Iraq War. Though the Iraqi leader had intended for the monument to serve as propaganda for him and his army, it is now considered a unifying commemorative monument to all Iraqi martyrs. Minimalist in its simple, domed design and striking in its bright blue color, it has become synonymous with modern Iraqi visual culture.

“In the beginning I had several attempts such as an idea of having the martyr bursting from the centre. But I did not like it – it was too theatrical. Then, the idea of life versus death began to form. The two pieces moving together towards martyrdom and fertility and the life stream. I moved the pieces until I got the interplay I wanted.”
Ismail Fattah on the origins of the Nasb al-Shaheed, Gilgamesh Magazine, 1987

Living in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Fattah struggled under the weight of his country’s economic sanctions, and his work began to reflect Iraq’s bleak political and humanitarian state. He replaced his vivid colors with dark and muted tones in many artworks, portraying faces that were devoid of discernible emotion, if not obscured completely. In the late 1990s, Fattah relocated to Qatar, where Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani started an initiative to support artists after recent wars and instability. In Doha, Fattah began working on a large public sculpture in 2001, entitled The Guardian of the Fertile Crescent, to be placed outside Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. However, he was soon diagnosed with cancer, and after traveling to Abu Dhabi to receive treatment, his family chartered a plane so that he could live out his last days in Iraq. Within hours of arriving in Baghdad in 2004, Fattah passed away. To this day, amongst artists and art lovers alike, he remains one of the Arab world’s most significant and revered artists. His legacy also lives on in his final sculpture; The Guardian of the Fertile Crescent was completed in 2010, and now stands outside Doha’s premier museum of contemporary art.


Selected Solo Exhibitions


Riyaheen al-Turk  (The Winds of Al-Turk), Etihad Modern Art Gallery, Abu Dhabi, UAE


Ismail Fattah, National Theatre, Abu Dhabi, UAE


Ismail Fattah, Foresight Gallery, Amman, Jordan


Ismail Fattah, 4 Walls Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Ismail Fattah: On the First Anniversary of his Death, Athar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


In Memoriam of Fattah, Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi, UAE


Ismail Fattah: Paintings and Sculpture, Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan


Ismail Fattah, Kufa Gallery, London, United Kingdom


Ismail Fattah, Al-Riwaq Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


Exhibition of Sculptures, Lamtoor Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Exhibition of Sculptures, Baghdad Association, Baghdad, Iraq


Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures, Gallery One, Beirut, Lebanon
Exhibition of Paintings, National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Exhibition of Paintings, Al-Wasiti Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


Exhibition of Sculptures, Laurina Gallery, Rome, Italy
Exhibition of Sculptures, Al-Wasiti Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


Exhibition of Sculptures, Galleria degli Artisti Contemporanei a Roma (Gallery of Modern Artists), Rome, Italy


Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures, Palazzo dell’ Esposizione (Exhibition Palace), Rome, Italy

Selected Group Exhibitions


Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011, MoMA PS1, New York, USA


A Century in Flux, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE
Modern Masters: Iraqi Works from the Modernist Era, Meem Gallery, Dubai, UAE
Revolution Generations, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar


Beloved Bodies II, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Arab Print: Volume III, Meem Gallery, Dubai, UAE


The Short Century, Sharjah Museum, Sharjah, UAE


Fragrance of Paper: Ismail Fattah, Shakir Hassan Al Said & Faik Hassan (Athar Gallery collection(, Orfali Art Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Sky Over The East, Barjeel Art Foundation, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, UAE


Modern Iraqi Art: A Collection, Meem Gallery, Dubai, UAE
RE: Orient, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE


Homage to Ismail Fattah, 1934-2004, & Homage to Shakir Hassan Al Said, 1925-2004: Shared Exhibition, Athar Art Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


Ismail Fattah & Dia Azzawi: Paintings and Sculptures by the Two Artists, Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE


Group Exhibition, Youth Creative Arts Centre, Doha, Qatar


5 Visual Interpretations from Modern Iraqi Art: A. Talib & D. Azzawi & I. Fattah & T. Ibrahim & R. Nasiri, Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE
Ismail Fattah, Saadi Al-Kaabi & Liza Fattah, Baghdad Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


Fattah & Obaidi: Exposition Collectives – Encre et Acrylique sur Papier, Galerie des Arts, Tunis, Tunisia


Three Iraqi Artists: Ismail Fattah, Liza Fattah and Mohammad Mohreddin, Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan


Seven Iraqi Artists: Shaker Hassan al Said, Salem al Dabbagh, Saadi al Ka'bi, Mohammad Mohreddin, Rafa' al Nasiri, Ali Taleb, and Ismail Fattah, Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan
National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq


Homage to Jawad Salim: Lorna Selim, Mohammed Ghani Hikmet, Dia Azzawi & Ismail Fattah, Kufa Gallery, London, UK


Group Exhibition: Contemporary Arab Artists III, Iraqi Cultural Centre, London, UK


Twelve Arab Artists, Galerie Faris, Paris


Contemporary Arab Artists I, Iraqi Cultural Centre, London, UK


Iraq Pavilion, Venice Biennale ‘76, Venice, Italy


First New Vision Group Exhibition, National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq


Inaugural Triennale of Contemporary World Art, New Delhi, India

Public Works


The Guardian of the Fertile Crescent, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar    (started in 2001 and completed in 2010)


Nasb al-Shaheed (Martyr’s Monument), Palestine Street, Baghdad, Iraq
Conference Palace, Baghdad, Iraq


Ancient Arabic Medicine, Baghdad, Iraq
Tigris and Euphrates, Haifa Street, Baghdad, Iraq


Al-Kadhimi sculpture, Al-Kadhimiya, Baghdad, Iraq


Abu Nuwas sculpture, Abu Nuwas Street, Baghdad, Iraq
Al-Wasiti sculpture, now in College of Fine Arts, University of Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq
Al-Farabi sculpture, Al-Zawra Park, Baghdad, Iraq


Al-Rasafi sculpture, Al-Rasafi Square, Baghdad, Iraq


Façade of the Lawyer’s Union, Ministry of Industry, Baghdad, Iraq    

Awards and Honors


First Prize, Sculpture for Foreign Artists, Margeta Annual Exhibition, Rome, Italy


First Prize in Sculpture for Arab Artists, Rome, Italy
First Prize, Exhibition Palace, Rome, Italy

Affiliations & Memberships


Chairman, Iraqi Association of Plastic Arts, Baghdad, Iraq


President, Society of Iraqi Artists for Abstract Art, Iraq


Founding Member, New Vision Group, Iraq


Member of Al-Zawya Group (The Corner Group), Baghdad, Iraq


Member of Baghdad Modern Art Group, Baghdad, Iraq



إسماعيل فتاح: من حيث بدأ (Ismail Fattah: min haithu jidan), Various authors, published by Al-Adib


Homage to Jawad Saleem / Tahiyat ila Jawad Saleem, Dia al-Azzawi & Ismail Fattah, published by Kutub Ltd, Beirut


Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Dar al-Anda, Amman, Jordan
Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan
Hussain Ali Harba Collection, Italy
Ibrahimi Collection, Amman, Jordan
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Kinda Foundation, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Majida Mouasher Collection, Amman, Jordan
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Nabu Museum, Heri, Lebanon
National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon

The Death of Ismail Fattah al-Turk
Michael Penn
The University of Kitakyushu, English, 2004
Ismail Fattah
Dia Al Azzawi
Onefineart, English
(القدرة التعبيرية للخامة في منحوتات صالح القره غولي و منحوتات إسماعيل فتاح الترك (دراسة مقارنة
م.م. سامر جاسم حلو
الأكاديمي, Arabic, 2011

Extract from Magazine

إسماعيل فتاح
محمد الجزائري, Arabic, 2015
التكوين الفني لأعمال الفنان إسماعيل فتاح الترك المنحوتة و المرسومة
Haitham Yelda Aboosh
Research Gate, Arabic


Modern Art In the Arab World Primary Documents
A. Lenssen, S. Rogers, N. Shabout
MOMA / From DAF Library, English, 2018

Excerpt from book p. 184-186

Art of the Middle East
Saeb Eigner
Merell, English, 2010

Excerpt from book p. 24-242-289-379

Modern Iraqi Art A Collection
Charles Pocock
Meem Editions/ From DAF Library, English, 2013

Excerpt from Catalog p. 54-65

Longing For Eternity
Hussein Ali Harba Family Collection
Skira / From DAF Library, English, 2013

Excerpt from book p. 134-141

إسماعيل فتاح الترك : ذلك الحزن المضيء
Al Akhbar, Arabic, 2010
Artists Remember Celebrated Sculptor
Maha Mohammed
IraqSlogger, English, 2007
إسماعيل فتاح الترك.. التجديد و الحداثة في الفن العراقي - ملاحق جريدة المدى اليومية
كريم النجار, Arabic, 2016
إسماعيل فتاح الترك.. خط إبداعي مغاير للمألوف
كريم النجار, Arabic, 2017
إسماعيل فتاح الترك: الموت أصعب الحتميات !
عادل كامل, Arabic, 2016
إسماعيل الترك حاضراً بأعماله
زياد جسام, Arabic, 2017
إستذكار إسماعيل فتح الترك مصمم نصب الشهيد العراقي
علي إبراهيم الدليمي, Arabic, 2016
إسماعيل فتح الترك.. مصمم نصب الشهيد العراقي الرائع, Arabic, 2018
إسماعيل فتاح الترك... شئ من الإبداع - عدسة الفن
سامر حميد, Arabic, 2018
إفتتاح معرض (تحية إلى إسماعيل فتاح) في الاندى غداً, Arabic, 2004
بيت المدى يستذكر الفنان إسماعيل فتاح الترك و فنانون يصفون اعماله بالعالمية, Arabic, 2016
الذكرى 13 لرحيل نحات الشعراء إسماعيل فتاح الترك
فائز جواد
Azzaman International, Arabic, 2017
الخطاب الفني .. عند النحات إسماعيل فتاح الترك
د. ماضي حسن نعمة, Arabic, 2017
تشكيليون عراقيون يحيون ذكرى إسماعيل فتاح الترك في بغداد, Arabic, 2009
بغداد تحيي ذكرى النحات إسماعيل فتاح الترك, Arabic, 2011
" و فنون الشباب تنظم ورشة عمل عن الفنان التشكيلي الراحل "إسماعيل فتاح, Arabic, 2017
نصب الشهيد العراقي يبكي مصممه إسماعيل الترك, Arabic, 2004
نحات الشعراء . إسماعيل فتاح الترك, Arabic, 2013
الترك هل كان عليه أن ينتظر اطول مما يجب؟
الشرق الأوسط, Arabic, 2004
توفي في بغداد عن 70 سنة. إسماعيل فتاح الترك رساماً و نحاتاً أسس مدرسته "التعبيرية الرمزية"
ماجد السامرائي, Arabic, 2004
يد المنون تختطف النحات إسماعيل فتاح الترك
عدنان حسين أحمد, Arabic, 2004
رحيل النحات إسماعيل فتاح الترك
د أسامة مهدي, Arabic, 2004
وفاة الفنان التشكيلي العراقي إسماعيل فتح الترك, Arabic, 2004
رحيل إسماعيل فتاح الترك، صاحب نصب الشهيد, Arabic, 2004
ندوة في "رؤى" حول التشكيلي اسماعيل فتاح, Arabic, 2006
إسماعيل الترك .. الحياة تظل خضراء
إيناس محيسن, Arabic, 2010
أعمال الفنان الراحل إسماعيل الترك في معرض جاليري الاتحاد
فاطمة عطفة, Arabic, 2014
أبو ظبي تحتفي بالنحات إسماعيل الترك.. و أرملته تصفه بالغائب الحاضر, Arabic, 2014
Abu Dhabi's gallery shows respect for Fattah's art
Anna Seaman
The National, English, 2014
"رياحين الترك".. معرض يحتفي بتجربة العراقي إسماعيل فتاح, Arabic, 2014
Modern Iraqi Art: A Collection
Isabella Ellaheh Hughes, English, 2013
إسماعيل فتاح الترك.. من أقطاب الفن العراقي المعاصر
د. كاظم شمهود, Arabic, 2015
إسماعيل فتاح الترك.. الوهج الأخير
Dia Al Azzawi
Al-Arabi Magazine, Arabic
من اعلام بلادي – اسماعيل فتاح الترك
عذراء عدنان, Arabic, 2016
الصرح الشامخ: نصب الشهيد
عذراء عدنان, Arabic, 2016