Dalloul Art Foundation

NAZAR YAHYA, Iraq (1963)



Written by Liam Sibai

Nazar Yahya was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1963. Following in the footsteps of his father, a seasoned journalist and photographer, Yahya worked at a widely-read Iraqi children’s magazine while still a high school student.  In 1987, Yahya received his bachelor’s degree in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad.  The artist’s youth was marked by almost constant contact with war. In just the first two decades of his life, Iraq saw the first Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, the Six-Day war, the October War, the second Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, and the first half of the Iran-Iraq War. Though in many ways Yahya’s work shares and builds upon themes and concerns taken up by many Iraqi artists before him, and is tied to events, ideologies, and iconography from Iraq and its wars, Yahya has a rather complicated relationship with the nation. He insists that he no longer has a country and is at peace with his feeling of statelessness. 

Like everyone else in the Arab world, Yahya grew up in a culture rich in calligraphic traditions. In Iraq especially, the Hurufiyya movement inflected local practices of modern art. Hurufiyya is a movement or set of aesthetic principles that emerged in the mid-twentieth century, taking as its core concern the adaptation of Arabic calligraphy in abstract painting. Among its key proponents were pioneers of Iraqi modernism, such as Jewad Selim, Shakir Hassan Al Sa’id, and Jamil Hamoudi, who used the Arabic letter to explore the abstract’s relationship to the material through the lens of heritage and language. Yahya’s work tackles a similar discourse with an encompassing, detailed, and nuanced awareness of its political implications. He utilizes a larger ensemble of forms, media, references, and symbols than the visual lexicons utilized by his predecessors. In the 1990s, harsh international sanctions rendered Iraq culturally isolated, and the narratives of Iraqi art split according to geographical location. Because artists within Iraq could not easily communicate with their countrymen abroad, little exchange occurred during this period between Iraqi artists based in Iraq and Iraqi artists elsewhere. Though Nazar Yahya resided in Iraq until the very end of sanctions in 2003, he later practiced and exhibited internationally. 

Yahya works in both painting and sculpture, and indeed has often incorporated both practices into individual works, as can be seen in Bad Game (2011). He incorporates both candid and staged photography in works like the Flower Chemistry series (2013) or I am Youssef (2013), and also works in acrylics on Chinese paper, such as in Spring(2010). The latter consists of two symbolic depictions of the Tigris that reflect the river’s alteration since the artist’s youth. The work draws inspiration from Islamic motif and geometry in its use of a rippling pattern. In it, one can see two recurring and interconnected techniques of Yahya’s; comparison and symbol. Comparing the present to the past is impossible without a document of the past. The production of such a document requires a system of signs and symbols, be it linguistic, numeral, or otherwise. While discussing Bad Game (2011), Yahya has compared helicopters to mosquitoes, both subjects of the piece, based on their nocturnal schedule of attack. Yahya often engages with ancient history, such as in the exhibition Yusuf (2011)where he uses the biblical story of Joseph to mirror the contemporary expulsion from one’s homeland that many Arabs face. Yahya has also cited Sufism and Sufi poetry as a quintessential part of his life, both as an inspiration for his work and as a source of philosophical guidance. An exhibition called The Truth (2014) broached the topic of Sufism through an exploration of oneness, a pillar of the faith.

Nazar Yahya fled Iraq in 2003, and since 2008 has lived in Houston, Texas with his family. 


"Bio Nazar Yahya." Nazar Yahya. Accessed May 27, 2019. http://www.nazaryahya.com/data/biography.html.

"Nazar Yahya." Barjeel Art Foundation. Accessed May 27, 2019. https://www.barjeelartfoundation.org/artist/iraq/nazar-yahya/.

"NAZAR YAHYA." Station Museum of Contemporary Art. Accessed May 27, 2019. http://stationmuseum.com/?page_id=3056.

Organization. "INTERNATIONAL ART: Iraqi Contemporary Art: The Effects of War and Exile." HuffPost. December 07, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/iraqi-contemporary-art-in_n_795289.

Shabout, Nada. “Bifurcation of Iraq’s Visual Culture.” In We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War, 5-23

Pocock, Charles, Heba Elkayal, and Amar Dawod. Reconquista.

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Selected Solo Exhibitions


Of Things To Come, Mark Hachem Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


The Truth, Karim Gallery, Amman, Jordan


The Truth, Wade Wilson Art Gallery, Houston, USA


Rosewater, Wade Wilson Art Gallery, Houston, USA


Yusuf, Al Bareh Art Gallery, Bahrain


Beard Code, Sultan Gallery, Kuwait


Beard Land, Karmin Gallery, Amman, Jordan


Blocks, Orfali Gallery, Amman


Steel and Asphalt Memory, French Cultural Centre, Doha, Qatar


French Cultural Centre, Doha, Qatar


French Cultural Centre, Amman, Qatar


Graphic Expiation, Riwaq Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq

Selected Group Exhibitions


Artifactul Realities, Station Museum, Houston, USA
Impressions, Wade Wilson Art Gallery, Houston, USA


Art In Iraq Today: Conclusion, Meem Gallery, Dubai On the Edge of New, Wade Wilson Art Gallery, Houston, USA


A Chair and Painting, Albareh Gallery, Bahrain My Home Land, Art Sawa Gallery, Dubai, UAE
Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Art in Iraq Today: Part II, Meem Gallery, Dubai, UAE


Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, Denison University, Granville, Ohio, USA
Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Dubai, UAE


Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, The Centre for Book Arts, New York, USA
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, Minneapolis Athenaeum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, NIU Art Museum, DeKalb, Illinois, USA
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, The Jaffe Centre for Book Arts, Boca Raton, Florida, USA
Negative Positive to Iraqi Artists, Albareh Gallery, Manama, Bahrain


Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, University of Texas, El Paso, Texas, USA
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, Daura Gallery, Lynchburg College, Lynchburg, Virginia, USA
World Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, British Museum, London, UK


Improvisation: Seven Iraqi Artists, Bissan Gallery, Doha, Qatar
Improvisation: Seven Iraqi Artists, Al-Riwaq Gallery, Bahrain
Improvisation: Seven Iraqi Artists, 4 Walls Gallery, Amman, Jordan
Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, University of North Texas, Houston, Texas, USA
Iraqi Artists
, Musèe du Montparnasse, Paris, France


Five Contemporary Artists from Iraq, Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE


Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, Bangladesh


Fredrickstad Triennial,  Fredrickstad, Norway


Three Iraqi Artists, Agial Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Fifty Years of Iraqi Graphics, Darat Al Funun, Amman, Jordan


Environment and Surroundings in Iraqi Art, Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Homage to Jawad Selim, Athar Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq


Fredrickstad Biennale, Fredrickstad, Norway



First Prize for Painting, Emaar, Dubai, UAE


British Museum, London, UK
Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
The Hussain Ali Harba Family Collection, Italy
Kinda Foundation, Riyadh, Saud Arabia
Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, USA
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE



Art in Iraq Today
Dia Al-Azzawi, Charles Pocock, Jabra L. Jabra, May Muzaffar, Nada M. Shabout, Samar Farouqi, and Geo
Skira, English, 2011

Excerpt from book p. 266-279

Nazar Yahya, Longing for Eternity
Salam Atta Sabri, Mary Angela Schroth, Silvia Naef, Mary Angela Schroth, and Assim Abdul Amir
Skira, English, 2013

Excerpt from book p. 281-283



يعرض اعماله في غاليري الورفلي : التشكيلي نزار يحيى يذهب نحو الأعماق البصرية في تجربته الجديدة
addustour.com, Arabic, 2004
Iraqi contemporary art influenced by experiences of war and exile
mutualart.com, English, 2010
Art in Iraq Today: Part II
mutualart.com, English, 2010
Wade Wilson Art opening reception: Nazar Yahya: The Truth
houston.culturemap.com, English, 2014
Mystic Tales
trendesignmagazine.com, English, 2016
لوحات الفنان العراقي «نزار يحيى» في أستوديو رؤية للفنون بجدة
anbaanews.com, Arabic, 2014
Karim Gallery: Pop-up Exhibition by Nazar Yahya
Artmejo, English, 2019





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