A Picture of Poetry

The Artist's Books of Dia al-Azzawi


In this catalogue, the enormous and eclectic collection of Dia al-Azzawi’s artist’s books is being published for the first time


ISBN: 9788857248592 Category:


In this catalogue, the enormous and eclectic collection of Dia al-Azzawi’s artist’s books is being published for the first time.

Starting in the 1960s with the first examples of visual artworks that Azzawi conceived as books and his earliest reimaginings of entire poems in the book form, through to the shattering war diaries during the Gulf War, the introduction of limited-edition printed books and the experimental dissolution of the medium into sculptural objects, this is a lesser-known, private side of Azzawi’s practice that has never been seen before.

While the incorporation of Arabic text in paintings, sculptures and graphic design is one of the best-known features of the work of the Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi (born in 1939), these artist’s books (dafatir, plural of daftar) more directly reflect Azzawi’s love of literature itself and how it informs his overall practice. A deep fascination with poetry, both written and spoken, led him to create over 100 artworks based on a huge range of literature, including poetry from the medieval and modern eras and works by Arab and non-Arab writers. Initially inspired by illustrated manuscripts from the Islamic era (including the extant Yahya al-Wasiti drawings for a C13th manuscript of Maqamat al-Hariri) and modern book art (such as Henri Matisse’s Jazz and Chafic Abboud’s interpretation of Maqamat al-Hariri), Azzawi reimagines the experience of hearing poetry in his distinctive visual style, including detailed line drawings and explosions of colour, thereby transforming the experience of the listener or reader into that of the viewer. Over time, he also reimagined the daftar medium itself by blurring the line between sculpture and book art as he shifted from works on paper and sketchbooks to sculptural forms, as he increasingly envisaged the daftar as a standalone three-dimensional object.

Additional information

Weight 2006 g
Dimensions 24.5 x 28.2 cm
Publisher name Skira Editore S.p.A
Publication date 31 October 2023
Number of pages 352
Format Hardback
Contributors Edited by Louisa Macmillan, Contributions by Francesca Leoni, Nada Shabout, Wen-chin Ouyang, and Dia al-Azzawi
Dimensions 24.5 x 28.2 cm
Weight 2006 g


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Yasmine Seale (1989) translates from Arabic and French, and her essays on books and art have appeared in Harper's, The Nation, the TLS, Apollo, frieze and elsewhere.

Nada Shabout is a professor of art history and coordinator of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative at the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, U.S.