"When Muqbil Zahawi presented his first exhibition of ceramic sculpture in Geneva in 1962, it was immediately clear that one was in the presence of a highly original artist. Since then he has expanded his horizons, reaching an admirable maturity in his new, larger scale sculptures and reliefs. His consistent challenge of accepted concepts of ceramic form obliges one to rethink one’s attitudes concerning the ceramic medium.
Muqbil Zahawi was born in Baghdad, but has studied and lived in the United States for long periods. He has also lived and worked in Africa. Whether consciously acquired or unconsciously assimilated, the influences of these widely differing cultures are reflected in his art. It is clear that Zahawi has drawn strength and inspiration from a number of separate entities to forge a single style, uniquely his own. His work appears as if both archaic and modern.
With Zahawi's style, one is truly placed in direct contact with textures and patina, which speak eloquently to the viewer. Simple materials are imaginatively transformed into evocative, unexpected, even humorous symbols. Yet his technical accomplishment is but subsidiary to the final aim: an exciting aesthetic experience."
~ Glyn Uzzell, (1971)
“Among the dimensions that Zahawi’s methods brings to his work are not only the clear signs of the artist’s hands seen on every piece, but include a generous measure of the artist’s emotional attitudes in all their variety. You will find sculptures that speak of power and strength, of sensuality, of calligraphy and ancient wisdom, and of delightful bits of whimsy.”
"Il a cree par l'allusion du contour et de l'incision d'antiques divinites, des fontains muettes des minartes et des motifs de decoration archietecturale...la science du dessin fait reconnaitre in potier de grande classe.”
“…l’artiste s’exprime avec une technique millenaire et retrouve dans les formes qu’il cree le caractere mythique et la presence signifiante des terres cuites du basin mediterraneen d’avant la civilization grecque...il faut beaucoup de talent pout arriver a trahir la finalite traditionnelle d’une technique sans qu’elle en souffre.”
“…Raumlich beherrscht im Vordergrund…das Feld mit monumentalen Gebilden, die meist Fetisch – und Idol Charakter tragen und sich weit Von reiner Gefasskeramik entfernt haben. Bei diesem Kunstler nehmen scheinbar irreale, oft vom alten Afrika inspirierte Geistwesen uberraschend moderne Gestalten an.”
“The fantastic imagery of Eastern craftsmanship, with its perpetual insistence of a combination of fantastic, formal opulence and executive precision, syntheises with a proto-surrealist relish in suggestively aggressive symbol…they remain among the more powerful creations of his genre.”
“Il y a plus, je crois, c’est une rencontre passionnee avec le monde et qui n’est transmissible que par la main miraculeuse d’un artiste qui de Mesopotamie a surpris toute la gestuelle des autres mondes. Je ne peux chercher les mots pour dire l’impression d’universalite que Malraux seul aurait aimee, que lui seulauriat exprimee. Ce sont des mondes qui se recontrent.”
For many years I simply viewed my father’s art as nothing more than aesthetic terracotta figures. Yet, as I learned to look past the clay, the power and drama of these forms narrated a deeper message, one of independence, nationalism, and hope.
As the winds of change swept through Africa and the Arab World in the 1960’s eroding with them the vestiges of colonialism, my father began to sculpt his own perspective of his changing surroundings. His designs were a fusion of Arabic and African history and culture, a sensitivity developed from living in the Middle East and serving the U.N. mission in the Congo. The spectrum of political changes witnessed with the rise of Pan-Arabism and the movements of independence throughout Africa shaped his conscious and molded an artistic activism that was manifested through exotic, mysterious, and often whimsical forms.
It is no coincidence that the climax of my father’s work, with their tense and vibrant shapes, coincided with the effects of the volatile political landscape of his day. This new comprehension of the inner meaning of his body of work has allowed me to better understand the complexity of his art, and, more personally, through its display, the man he is today. Indeed, this appreciation has allowed me to discover that an understanding of a crucial political period is sometimes best gained by observing it from a medium such as art, which memorializes not only the artist’s sentiment, but also provides insight into the political, social and cultural milieu of the time.
~ Hamada Zahawi