Salam Atta Sabri

Salam Atta Sabri was born in 1953 in Baghdad. Lives and works in Baghdad.

In this series of ink drawings produced for the 5th Canakkale Biennial, Salam Atta Sabri takes the palm tree as a symbol of the nation of Iraq. Iraq and its inhabitants have a deep and ancien relationship with date palm trees. Images of palm trees appear in Mesopotamian cylinder seals and to this day people cultivate the trees for their dates, and use their wood in traditional craft work. The trees create shade and keep Iraq’s cities cool in the summer. Iraq was once the leading date producer in the world. After the petrol boom of the 1950s, oil soon replaced agriculture in the Iraqi economy.

The daily production of these drawings, the artist has said, resembles a form of psychotherapy. The series has been commissioned by the Ruya Foundation which facilitated the first public exhibition of Atta Sabri’s work at the 56th Venice Biennale, 2015.

The works take their inspiration from Atta Sabri’s own memory as well as the collective imagination – the ancient and modern histories of Iraq. They were also influenced by the lives and works of Iraqi artists including the artist’s own father, Ata Sabri, and Jawad Salim. European influences include the work of Van Gogh and Paul Klee and a visit the artist made to the Metropolitan Museum of Art also influenced the series.

Atta Sabri has said, “Despite the death, devastation and neglect the palm tree has faced in Iraq, it resists and remains standing tall, just as our mother country does. Yet when I draw these palm trees I feel pain and despair. Since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, our palm tree orchards have been systematically destroyed in Iraq, from conflict, neglect and poor urban planning. These drawings are like an S.O.S. signal from an artist to the world. Saving palm trees in Iraq from extinction is, for me, a humanitarian issue. They are a fundamental part of our civilisation”.