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Dalloul Art Foundation

RAKAN DABDOUB, Iraq (1941 - 2017)


Written by Mysa Kafil-Hussain“The artist Rakan Dabdoub, who is known for his abundance and passion for art, and his keen desire to embody art with high human values, has created a special and...

Written by Mysa Kafil-Hussain

“The artist Rakan Dabdoub, who is known for his abundance and passion for art, and his keen desire to embody art with high human values, has created a special and distinguished artistic world, and thus was able to form a space in the Iraqi plastic scene”
Farouk Youssef on Rakan Dabdoub[1]

A loyal and loving son of Mosul, Rakan Dabdoub was born in the city in 1940, and would become one of its most accomplished modern artists. His mother introduced him to poetry and literature, whilst his grandfather guided him through the depths of Mosul’s countryside, mountain villages and nearby Bedouin communities.[2] This exposure to the environment, the people, and also to Iraq’s cultural heritage had a profound impact on Dabdoub’s drawings and sculptures later in his life. He first showed clear signs of his creative spark during his younger years, seeing the artistic potential in the world around him, fondly remembering his mother teaching him to write: “my mother would teach me to write the letter ‘Y’, drawing a duck for me. I liked drawing the duck more than I loved the letter ‘Y’.”[3] His interest in art increased during his school years, with a young Dabdoub struggling to keep on top of his other studies as a result. Nevertheless, he enrolled at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad in the late 1950s, graduating in 1961.

Dabdoub spent his time at the Institute amongst professors who were also masters of their creative fields, such as Faik Hassan, Faraj Abbo, Ismail al-Cheikhli and Atta Sabri, as well as Khaled Al Rahhal in the Institute’s sculpture department, who Dabdoub supported with many of his works.[4] After graduating, he travelled to Italy to complete his higher studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. Whilst in Rome during the early 1960s, Dabdoub exhibited his work in a range of group exhibitions during which he subsequently won many awards, also having the space to develop his personal artistic style away from the foundations of his training in Baghdad. He graduated in 1965, but the legacy of his time in Rome stayed with him. He had gained a great deal of knowledge there, including the art of wood carving, elements of which we can see influenced much of his later artworks.[5] To him, Rome was somewhere he could study the classical foundations of sculpture, drawing, art history and anatomy, and also visit some of the most renowned artistic institutions in the world. In Rome, he also crossed paths with artists from all over the world, but also with other Iraqi students in the city, including Ismail Fattah and his wife Liza Fattah, Ghazi al-Saudi and Miran al-Saadi.[6] Dabdoub then returned to Mosul, and joined the University of Mosul’s Engineering Department as an art teacher.

Dabdoub was very active during the 1970s, participating in a range of cultural events and initiatives in Baghdad as well as maintaining his job and an artistic presence in Mosul. His work developed extensively, and his references to Iraqi heritage, folklore and the local environment became key elements of his creative output. The majority of Dabdoub’s artworks in the Dalloul Art Foundation Collection are from this decade, including four untitled artworks from 1974, 1978 and 1979 respectively, as well as Aḥlām Dhahbīyya (‘Golden Dreams’) from 1972,  al-Ṣamt al-Mutakalim (‘A Spoken Silence’) from 1973, Aḥlām Imra’at (‘Female Dreams’) from 1974, and Nisā’ al-Ḥayy (‘Women of the Neighbourhood’), also from 1974. This stage of Dabdoub’s work is incredibly varied in terms of subject, but the majority have a textured, grainy appearance akin to reliefs, perhaps a legacy of his work with wood and especially marble, which he was extremely familiar with from the old houses and castles of Mosul. This tactile quality in his work, even on canvas, is understood by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra to be a result of Dabdoub’s training as a sculptor.[7] This intersection of painting, sculpting and carving creates a strong base for the colors and characters, which he paints into many dimensions. Dabdoub manifests figures and structures from a different world, borrowing ideas from ancient mythology, tales of heroes and heroines, and from his own knowledge of ancient Iraqi heritage, with some paintings clearly showing the influence of figural Sumerian statues and their physical features.

The sensual nature of his paintings also veers into the intimate, never shying away from depictions of nudity, especially the female form. Endowing his figures with “touchability”, as suggested by Jabra, Dabdoub uses holes in his paintings, either painted or perforated, to emphasise the presence of everything from a doorknob, to eyes, nipples and flowers, managing to fuse both structural and physical with an erotic allure.[8] This is also evident in his final artwork in the collection, an untitled painting from 1984 that sets a scene reminiscent of many from ancient Arab literature and heritage. Portraying a man on horseback entering an elaborately decorative and traditional world, he approaches a semi-clothed woman in a painting, which would otherwise feel very much at home in the pages of a medieval illustrated manuscript.

The 1980s-1990s were also very busy for Dabdoub. Painting, sculpting and exhibiting regularly, he was then honoured by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1989 with a presidential medal for his work in the arts.[9] In 1993, he retired from his role at the University of Mosul but continued to paint.  Towards the end of the 1990s, he started focusing his work more on aspects of Islamic art, calligraphy and the art of hurrifiyya, as well as various creative influences from his studies of the traditional architecture of Mosul.[10] He continued this work for many years, however in 2017, at the age of 76, he passed away in Mosul after a struggle with illness. The city was invaded and occupied by ISIS just two years before which must have had a profound effect on Dabdoub, seeing the destruction of his beloved city which had influenced his work immensely. Beautifully capturing the architectural and artistic heritage of Mosul in his work for over fifty years, Dabdoub’s work ensured that the legacy of the historic city would live on despite the devastation.

[1] Talal Hassan (2017), “طلال حسن : من أعلام العراق؛ الفنان التشكيلي راكان دبدوب”, n.pag

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Christie’s (2018) “Rakan Dabdoub – ‘Women of Crafty Mysteries’ – Christie’s: Post War and Contemporary Art, Dubai, 22 March 2018”, n.pag

[6] Hassan (2017), n.pag

[7] Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (1983), The Grass Roots of Iraqi Art, p.60

[8] Jabra (1983), p.62

[9] Wikipedia (n.d.), “راكان دبدوب”, n.pag

[10] Hassan (2017), n.pag


Jabra, Jabra Ibrahim (1983). The Grass Roots of Iraqi Art. Wasit Graphic and Publishing Limited: Baghdad, Iraq

Talal Hassan (2017). “طلال حسن : من أعلام العراق؛ الفنان التشكيلي راكان دبدوب”, In Accessed July 2020.

Christie’s (2018). “Rakan Dabdoub – ‘Women of Crafty Mysteries’ – Christie’s: Post War and Contemporary Art, Dubai, 22 March 2018, In Accessed July 2020.

Wikipedia (n.d.), “راكان دبدوب”, In Accessed July 2020.راكان_دبدوب


Selected Solo Exhibitions


34th Solo Exhibition, Iraqi Creativity Hall, Baghdad, Iraq


Mosul, Iraq


Mosul, Iraq


Baghdad, Iraq


16th Solo Exhibition, Al-Rewaq Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq

Selected Group Exhibitions


Art from Iraq, Al Mashreq Gallery, Kuwait


Park Gallery Booth, Abu Dhabi Art, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Nineveh Group Exhibition, French Cultural Center, Baghdad, Iraq


Intact: Iraqi Art, Iraqi Spirit, Aya Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Nineveh Group Exhibition, University of Mosul, Iraq


Nineveh Group Exhibition, Clock Hall, Mosul, Iraq
Baghdad International Festival for Fine Arts, Baghdad, Iraq


Iraqi Art Exhibition, Damascus Art Hall, Damascus, Syria


Hall of the Student Center, University of Mosul, Mosul, Iraq


Babylon International Festival, Baghdad, Iraq
World Plastic Arts Festival, Amman, Jordan


Baghdad International Festival of Art: “Art for Humanity”, Saddam Arts Centre, Baghdad, Iraq


Art Day Exhibition, Saddam Arts Center, Baghdad, Iraq


Opening of the Saddam Arts Center, Baghdad, Iraq


Al-Wasiti Festival, Baghdad, Iraq


Al-Wasiti Festival, Baghdad, Iraq


Contemporary Iraqi Art, Egypt; Sudan; Morocco; Tunisia


Contemporary Iraqi Art, Amman, Jordan; Athens, Greece


Contemporary Iraqi Art, Turkey; Paris, France
Exhibition of The Seventh Group, Baghdad, Iraq


Contemporary Iraqi Art, Damascus, Syria; Libya; San Francisco & Washington D.C., United States of America


Contemporary Iraqi Art, London, United Kingdom; Cairo, Egypt


Cagne-sur-Mer International Festival, Cagne-sur-Mer, France
World Plastic Arts Congress, Baghdad, Iraq
Contemporary Iraqi Art, Paris, France


The Third Triennale – India, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, India
Iraqi Plastic Artists Society Exhibition, Damascus, Syria


First Arab Biennale, Baghdad, Iraq
Lebanese Arab Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq
Contemporary Iraqi Art, Beirut, Lebanon; Turkey
Iraqi Artists Society: 16th Annual Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq


Arab Conference for Fine Arts Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq
Contemporary Iraqi Art, Moldova


Al-Wasiti Festival, Baghdad, Iraq
Contemporary Iraqi Art, Armenia


Contemporary Iraqi Art, Moscow, Russia; Kuwait City, Kuwait


New Delhi Triennale, New Delhi, India

Affiliations & Memberships

Date unknown

Member, Iraqi Artists Society, Baghdad, Iraq

Date unknown

Member, Iraqi Artists Syndicate, Baghdad, Iraq



State Prize for Arts & Literature, Baghdad, Iraq


Honorary Diploma & Silver Medal, Journal of Italian and Foreign Artists, Rome, Italy


Honorary Diploma & Silver Medal, Journal of Italian and Foreign Artists, Rome, Italy
Second Prize, Saint Vito Romano Competition, Rome, Italy
Dante Prize, Italian-Arab Cultural Relations Exhibition, Rome, Italy


Ibrahimi Collection, Amman, Jordan
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan
Al Markhiya Gallery Permanent Collection, Doha, Qatar
Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon



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