On This Day, April 23
She was described by former Iraq president Jalal Talabani (1933-2017) as “the first Iraqi woman who anchored the pillars of Iraqi contemporary art”.
Naziha Salim — an Iraqi artist, educator and author — has the Google Doodle on April 23, 2022, dedicated to her.
Not a great deal of scholarly attention is always given to the cultural and artistic lives of female artists, especially in the Eastern hemisphere, but managed to get her name etched in the annals of history.
She was one of the first women in Iraq to be awarded a scholarship to study art outside the country. In the 1940s, she graduated from the Baghdad Fine Arts Institution, and after gaining the scholarship continued art education in Paris. She remained in Europe for seven years before returning in the 1960s to the Fine Arts Institute as a teacher; she remained there until her retirement in the 1980s, where she was widely beloved as an instructor.
Naziha was an active participant in Iraq’s arts community; a foundation member of the arts group known as Al-Ruwwad (the “Avante Garde or Primitive group”), the first group of Iraqi artists to study abroad and who sought to incorporate modern European art techniques within a distinctly Iraqi aesthetic. This group had an enormous influence on later generations of Iraqi artists.
Naziha also hailed from a family of prolific artists — her famous older brother, Jawad Salim was an influential Iraqi painter and sculptor of renown; her other older brothers were also talented artists — Rashid a political cartoonist, Su’ad Salim a painter who designed the coat of arms for the Iraqi Republic, and Nizarre, also an artist. Her father, Hajji Mohammed Salim was a painter and an officer in the Ottoman army, while her mother was also an artist and a skilled embroiderer. The artist, Abdul Qadir Al Rassam, the first Iraqi to paint in the European style, was an older relative (possibly her father’s cousin). Naziha’s painting themes usually revolved around representations of women and family — her own family, rural Iraqi women, peasant women, women at work, Mesopotamian and Arab goddesses. She participated in various experimental movements and her work often illustrated the changes taking place in women’s lives, “contributing to the opening up of news cultural, social and political spaces”, it is said.
Her work demonstrates an interest in the contemporary stylistic experiments of Baghdadi painting, as well as portraiture, Baghdadi street scenes and mosques. Naziha, it is said by critics, “would take geometric plains of colors and combine them with more organic and sensual lines going throughout the composition”.