Written by Mysa Kafil-Hussain Born in 1929 in the Kadhimiya district of Baghdad, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat spent his youth molding objects with clay he would find in and around his neighborhood....
MOHAMED GHANI HIKMAT, Iraq (1929 - 2011)
Written by Mysa Kafil-Hussain
Born in 1929 in the Kadhimiya district of Baghdad, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat spent his youth molding objects with clay he would find in and around his neighborhood. This early curiosity and creative flair would then flourish into an artistic vision and faithful commitment to his country, making him one of the most important artists of his generation. Responsible for a great number of key public monuments, Ghani’s work has come to define the landscape of Baghdad.
Ghani joined the Institute of Fine Arts, graduating in 1953. That same year he joined the Baghdad Modern Art Group, a collective set up by Shakir Hassan Al Said and Jewad Selim, the latter of who had taught Ghani at the Institute. The group’s objective was finding inspiration in Iraq’s traditions, using this inspiration in modern art to create a unique artistic language. Abbasid-era manuscripts, Islamic motifs, and Sumerian and Babylonian monuments informed much of their innovative compositions, influencing Ghani’s to marry modern sculpture with his rich heritage.
In the mid-1950s, Ghani traveled to Italy to study at Rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti, graduating in 1959, and then joining the Instituto di Zaka in Florence, where he obtained a diploma in bronze casting in 1961. Rome was a defining period for Ghani, allowing him to acquire extensive knowledge of working with bronze and marble, with Italian critics lauding his skills and the foreign, classical roots of his distinct style. Ghani was then commissioned to produce eighteen wooden panels for the doors of a church in Testa di Lepre, near Rome, making him the first Muslim sculptor to produce work for the Catholic Church.
"I studied and trained in the hands of old professors of age and experience, and I learned from them to respect the clay, and to respect time….it was a wonderful city full of arts, and its people are artists. Rome taught me not to make a statue of a face or a body, but it taught me how to respect my work. ” Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, 2003
Whilst in Italy, he also helped to cast the large bronze figures for the Nasb al-Hurriyah (Freedom Monument), fulfilling the vision of its designer, Jewad Selim, Ghani’s former teacher who he greatly admired. Selim sadly died before its completion, leaving Ghani to finish the project alongside Selim’s wife, Lorna, before its inauguration in Baghdad in 1961. On his return to Baghdad, Ghani encountered a new Iraq, having just been through years of political upheaval, creating both instability and inspiration for artists. He then began teaching sculpture at the Institute of Fine Arts, the Academy of Fine Arts and in the Architecture department at the University of Baghdad. He joined the az-Zawiya (The Angle) group in 1967, a collective founded by Faeq Hassan focusing on socio-political themes, with members including Ismail Fattah and Kadhim Haydar. That same year, he created an untitled wooden sculpture resembling a decorative panel (in the DAF Collection), beautifully carved with abstract figural shapes, which simultaneously appear both human and calligraphic.
From the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Ghani was commissioned to create public monuments, the majority of which related to Iraqi cultural heritage. These included Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1969), Hammurabi (1969), Shahrayar and Shahrazad (1971), Kahramana (1971), Al-Mutanabbi (1977); all widely celebrated, becoming recognisable representations of Baghdad for many decades.Consistently inspired by both pre-Islamic and medieval Iraqi heritage, Ghani’s work developed but retained these folkloric elements and familiar cultural references. In his 1976 wooden sculpture, Seller of Erk Sous (in the DAF Collection), we see his interest in local heritage displayed on a smaller scale, depicting a traditional street vendor selling “Erk Sous”, a liquorice-based cold drink popular in the Middle East.
Ghani’s international opportunities increased in the 1980s, including the production of a wooden gate for UNICEF in Paris. However, his focus was always Iraq, and with the rise of Saddam Hussein, artistic propaganda became a necessity for the government. The Arch of Victory, initially a project of Khalid al-Rahal (who died in 1987), and was completed by Ghani, becoming a symbol of Saddam’s strength. This period is also most likely when he produced a series of small, abstract wooden statues, many of which are in the DAF Collection, all thought to represent the people of Iraq, and especially referencing women in traditional abayas (cloaks) and the shapes of local gravestones.
Ghani stayed in Iraq until 2003, leaving for Jordan just before the invasion. He soon returned but saw Baghdad in ruins: his monuments were defaced and many other works were stolen from both his studio and during the looting of the museums. Determined to protect what was left and to restore what was taken, Ghani formed a committee to recover stolen works, with over 100 artworks being safely returned. Ghani left Iraq again, only to return in 2010 when the Mayor of Baghdad commissioned him to produce a series of monuments. Thrilled to be creating work for his beloved Baghdad again, he began work on four new sculptures. Unfortunately, Ghani passed away in 2011 at the age of 82, and never saw these monuments come to life. Completed by his son, they are now part of the wide array of quintessentially Iraqi monuments Ghani filled his city with. Around the world, the sculptures of Mohammed Ghani Hikmat have become synonymous with Baghdad, with its rich cultural heritage embedded in Ghani’s delicately crafted bronze, marble and wood, allowing his legacy and his love for Baghdad to live on through his work.
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 Nada Shabout, 2011. “Farewell Mohammad Ghani Hikmat”, In Jadaliyya.com: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/2641/farewell-mohammad-ghani-hikmat
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Selected Solo Exhibitions
Opening of Mohammed Ghani Gallery, Oman
Mohammed Ghani: Sculpture Art from Iraq, CAB Gallery - Cairo Amman Bank, Amman, Jordan
Al-Riwaq Gallery, Manama, Bahrain
Mohammed Ghani Hikmet: The Comprehensive Retrospective Exhibition, Saddam Arts Centre (formerly the National Museum of Modern Art), Baghdad, Iraq
Mohammed Ghani: Bronze Knockers and Handles, Orfali Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Mohammed Ghani Hikmet: The First Anniversary of the Orfali Art Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
M. Ghani: Exhibition of Bronze Maquettes, Iraqi Cultural Centre, London, UK
Mohamed Ghani – Bronze Maquettes, Al-Riwaq Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq
Mohammed Ghani, Baghdad, Iraq
Exhibitions in Rome and San Remo, Italy; Beirut, Lebanon; London, UK; Baghdad, Iraq
Selected Group Exhibitions
Crossing Generations: A Selection of Emirati and Arab Contemporary Art from the ADMAF Art Collection, US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF), Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, USA
Iraqi Art, Foresight32 Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Homage to Jawad Salim (Group exhibition with Dia al-Azzawi, Lorna Selim, Ismail Fattah & Nadhim Ramzi), Kufa Gallery, London, UK
Art for Humanity: The Second Baghdad International Festival of Art, Saddam Arts Centre (formerly the National Museum of Modern Art), Baghdad, Iraq
Sculpture Irakienne Contemporaine, Al-Wasiti Gallery - Centre Culturel Irakien, Paris, France
PLO Exhibition of Art for the Sake of Palestine, Beirut
Contemporary Iraqi Art, Tunis, Tunisia
First Arab Biennale, Baghdad, Iraq
Al-Wasiti Festival, Baghdad, Iraq
Exhibition of Plastic Arts: Al-Marbad Poetry Festival, Basra, Iraq
Az-Zawiya (The Angle) Group Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq
Iraqi Artists Society Annual Exhibition & Inauguration of the New Centre, National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Iraqi Artists Society – Eighth Annual Exhibition, National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Iraqi Artists Society – Seventh Annual Exhibition, National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Awards and Honors
Takreem Foundation Cultural Excellence Award, Doha, Qatar
Appreciation Prize, The Arab League, Egypt
Lebanese State Prize for Arts, Ministry of Culture, Rachana, Lebanon
Best Iraqi Sculpture, Gulbenkian Award, Baghdad, Iraq
International Exhibition Award, Rome, Italy
Mayoral Award of Appreciation, Mayor of Rome, Italy
Affiliations & Memberships
Founder, Committee for Recovering Iraq's Culture, Baghdad, Iraq
President, UNESCO National Board of Arts, Paris
Member, One Dimension Group, Baghdad Iraq
Founding Member, az-Zawiya (The Angle) Group, Baghdad, Iraq
Member, Iraqi Plastic Artists Society
Member, Baghdad Modern Art Group, Baghdad, Iraq
Member, Society of Friends of Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Member, The Pioneers Group, Baghdad, Iraq
Azzawi Collection, London, United Kingdom
Dijla Art Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq / Amman, Jordan (Public Collection)
Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundaion (DAF), Beirut, Lebanon
Hussain Ali Harba Family Collection, Amman, Jordan
Ibrahimi Collection, Amman, Jordan
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Orfali Art Gallery, Amman, Jordan
UNESCO Art Collection, Paris, France
MOHAMED GHANI HIKMAT Artwork
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