MAHMOUD OBAIDI, Iraq (1966)
Written by Liam Sibai
Mahmoud Obaidi was born in Baghdad in 1966. His father was a military general, and his mother, a writer who, in the artist’s early years, surrounded him with art and culture. At his mother’s encouragement, the young Obaidi began his creative endeavors at the age of twelve. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Fine Arts in Baghdad and mounting his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in the same city, the artist left Iraq to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Guelph in Canada. He left Iraq voluntarily and intended to stay abroad for two years; unfortunately, the rest of his stay in North America was a forced exile brought on by the political conditions of his nation. After earning his master’s, he received two diplomas in Film and New Media, one from Ryerson University in Toronto and another from the HIF Film Academy in Los Angeles.
At a young age, Obaidi immersed himself in poetry, especially the works of Badr Shaker El Sayab and Abd el Wahab el Bayyati. However, as the dawn of the 1980s brought conflict with Iran, Obaidi had to settle for reading his father’s military literature due to the sanctions and travel restrictions imposed on Iraq. By the time Obaidi held his first solo exhibition in 1990, Iraq had long been under these conditions, and the work in this show was therefore distanced from the influence of most art produced and circulating outside Iraq. During this period, Iraqi artists were split into two groups – those producing work in their homeland and those abroad – whose contact was limited by the political climate. After this first show, Mahmoud Obaidi joined the latter group, creating all of his subsequent work outside of Iraq.
Mahmoud Obaidi’s works explore themes of war, displacement, and loss of identity; they are recreations of particular moments, objects and notions from contemporary Iraqi history and are intended to highlight certain aspects of the nature of those objects and moments. In 2016, for example, Obaidi displayed a fallen bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in an untitled work, suggesting that the excessively mediatized moment of the fall of this statue is in itself a monument to the victory of American “democracy” in Iraq. Fair Skies(2010-2013), which grew out of the project How Not to Look Like a Terrorist inThe Eyes of an American Airport Authority(2010), approaches racial profiling through the lens of often commodified sets of cultural signifiers. The tongue-in-cheek exhibition suggests using cosmetics as a means of avoiding an encounter with airport security in the United States. Vending machines branded with the name of the artist’s fictional company, Fair Skies, marketed products meant to obscure physical features associated with Arabness and/or create those associated with Western European ancestry, such as blue contact lenses and hair bleach. The exhibition also included a staging of a confrontation with airport security mediated by several action figures in several installations and a video. Mission Accomplished(2013) commemorates the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush’s eponymous speech on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, in which the then-president of the United States announced the end of major combat in Iraq. The neon in the work spells ‘MISS10N ACCOMPLISHED’ in geometry and coloration similar to that of the American flag. Obaidi visits and revisits the throwing of two pairs of shoes at George W. by the journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi, producing a portrait of Bush surrounded by shoes in Farewell Kiss(2012), then reproducing that work in bronze for his Fragmentsexhibition with Farewell Kiss 4(2016), and even embroidering Bush’s face in to a canvas using shoes laces in Shoelace Bush (2016).
The artist and his family currently reside in Toronto. However, Obaidi frequently visits Doha and Beirut for work.
"About." About OBAIDI - : : O B A I D I A R T : :. Accessed June 27, 2019. https://www.obaidiart.com/About-OBAIDI.
"Mahmoud Obaidi Biography." Meem Gallery. Accessed June 27, 2019. https://www.meemartgallery.com...
Obrist, Hans Ulrich. "About Obaidi." In Obaidi In Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist. Qatar Museums.
Obrist, Hans Ulrich, and Mahmoud Obaidi. "In Conversation." In Obaidi in Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Shabout, Nada. “Bifurcation of Iraq’s Visual Culture.” In We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War, 5-23
Selected Solo Exhibitions
The Cube, Meem Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fragments: An Exhibition by Mahmoud Obaidi, Qatar Museums Gallery, Katara, Doha, Qatar
Fair Skies, Project Space, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Baghdad Manifesto, Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom
The Imposter, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
The Replacement, Meem Gallery, Dubai and Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait City
Fair Skies– 25 Years of Arab Creativity, National Museum of Bahrain, Manama, Bahrain
The Cubes– Hajj: The Journey Through Art, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Confusionism, Katara Art Centre, Doha, Qatar
Fair Skies– 25 years of Arab Creativity, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
200 Gigabytes of My Memory, Meem Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Beirut Exhibition
Centre, Beirut, Lebanon
Fair Skies, Agial Art Gallery and Art Dubai, Dubai
The Dome Project, Zavitz Gallery, Toronto; Public Art, India
Obaidi, Darat Al Funun, Amman, Jordan
Selected Group Exhibitions
Arabicity / Ourouba, organized by Rose Issa Projects, Middle East Institute Gallery, Washington DC, USA
Objects of Imagination, Contemporary Arab Ceramics,Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts,
Compact Home, British Museum, London, United Kingdom
Ourouba, the eye of Lebanon, organized by Rose Issa Projects, Beirut Art Fair, BIEL, Beirut, Lebanon
Contemporary Arab Art: How Do You Sleep at Night?,Meem Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Contemporary Arab Art: How Do You Sleep at Night?, Abu Dhabi Art, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Dress Code, Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, Abu Dhabi
Art in Iraq Today, Meem Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Beirut Exhibition Centre, Beirut, Lebanon
They Welcomed Us with Flowers, Bastakiya Art Fair, Dubai
My Homeland, Art Sawa Gallery, Dubai
Beyond the War: Contemporary Iraqi Artists of the Diaspora, LTHM Gallery, New York, US
A Chair and a Painting, Al Bareh Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Turtles – Iraqi Artists in Exile, Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, Texas, US
Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, US
Golden Leaves Book, Gallery Jouy, Switzerland; T Cazacrou Foundation, Frankfurt, Germany
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, University of North Texas Art Gallery, Denton, Texas, US
Improvisation: Seven Iraqi Artists, Bissan Gallery, Doha, Qatar
Improvisation: Seven Iraqi Artists, Al-Riwaq Gallery, Manama, Bahrain
Improvisation: Seven Iraqi Artists, 4 Walls Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Paris–Baghdad: Iraqi Artists, Musée du Montparnasse, Paris, France
Iraqi Art Now: Looking Out, Looking In, De Paul Art Museum, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
The Ramona Project, 4 Walls Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Cats’ Factory, Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
The National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, Jordan
Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE
The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, Canada
The Museum of Modern Art Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
NABU Museum, Heri, Lebanon
Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France