Auction of modern Iraqi art at Bonhams is world ‘first’

Bonhams will hold an auction in London on Wednesday entitled A Century of Iraqi Modernism, which it describes as “a comprehensive sale showcasing the major Iraqi artists and artistic movements of the 20th century” and “the first auction of its kind anywhere in the world”. 

The occasion is a rare glimmer of positive cultural news about Iraq amidst the ongoing, barbaric destruction of Assyrian antiquities by Islamic State terrorists, which has been classified as a war crime by the United Nations. 

Nima Sagharchi, head of modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art at Bonhams, said: “Iraq has been one of the most creatively fertile areas in the region, and it is important for the international market to recognise the achievements that Iraqi art has made, despite the difficult circumstances the country has faced.” 

Highlight 

The highlight of the sale is a portrait of celebrated Iraqi poet and academic Lamea Abbas Amara by Jewad Selim (1919-1961), which is estimated at £60,000-£100,000 (€83,500-€140,000). Selim was also head of the sculpture department at Baghdad’s Fine Art Institute. 

His most famous work is The Freedom Monument in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, which commemorates the 1958 revolution. Lamea Abbas Amara, the subject of the portrait, was a student of Selim’s at the institute, and it was during her course of studies that the portrait was painted. 

According to Bonhams, when the portrait was completed, she asked Selim if he would sign it but he “replied that he would not since he intended never to sell it, and it remained in his collection until his death”. 

By Michael Parsons
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