Madiha UMAR
Madiha UMAR
مديحة عمر

Madiha Omar ( مديحه عمر‎)  Born in Aleppo - Syria 1908 ,Died in Amman -Jordan 2005.  

She is an Iraqi artist who is known for incorporating calligraphy with abstract art. She is generally perceived as the first Arab artist to have done this.[1] Therefore, she is seen as the predecessor to the Hurufiyya movement. Also, Omar was the first female to receive a scholarship from the Iraqi government to study in Europe.

Madiha was born in Aleppo Her father Circassian and her mother Syrian. However, the family moved to Iraqi when she was a young girl. Omar attended the Sultaniyya School in Istanbul, where she drew praise from Ali Riza for her painting skills. She then trained as a teacher at the Maria Grey Training College in London in the 1930s, graduating with First class honours in Arts and Crafts in 1933. She then taught painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad, becoming head of department before leaving in 1942.

In 1939 she married Yasin Umar. She accompanied her husband, a diplomat, to Washington where he was a member of the Iraqi Commission.

She attended the Corcoran School of Art receiving a MFA in 1959.

In 1971 she joined the One Dimension Group founded by Shakir Hassan Al Said. George Washington Notable Alumni 1950’s. She also was a member of the Iraqi Artist Society.

Omar was the first Iraqi woman to receive a scholarship from the government to study in Europe & she is reputed for being the first to utilize Arabic calligraphy in abstract form since 1944. Received an Honorary Award, Corcorron Fine Arts College, 1947.

​Her first solo exhibition was in 1949 with a series of 22 hurufist-inspired paintings at Georgetown Public Library in Washington, result of 9 years of investigation encouraged by art historian Richard Ettinghausen. The search for Hurufiyya begun "many years before (the exhibitions), in 1944 or 1945 from I recall", says Umar. "In the college library I stumbled upon a book on Arabic calligraphy in North Africa with a table showing the beginnings of letters and the development of their form and shape. After that I went to the museum director, the famous scholar of Arab-Islamic art Richard Ettinghausen, who held the Chair for Arab-Islamic Art in Michigan before moving to Washington. I showed him some of my experimenting with the development of the letter. 'Continue in this direction. No one has done it before you', is what the famous professor told me."
Later in the same year, she wrote the essay Arabic Calligraphy: An Element of Inspiration in Abstract Art. The following paragraph is a fragment of this essay.
​“I mastered Arabic calligraphy, which represents abstract meanings and which is symbolic in its essence and which should not be regarded as mere geometrical dimensions and forms. From the standpoint of artistic design. I think such a view does harm to the individuality of each letter, divests it of its freedom of expression and hinders its ability of being used as an artistic design. In fact, every letter of Arabic calligraphy has sufficient ability and dynamic character to make an abstract image. Moreover, it has that obvious individualistic quality which helps in making perfect forms with a particular meaning or idea, or in representing a new or an old event.”
Between 1950 and 1980, Umar had 18 solo shows throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East and the USA,Washington, Maryland, San Francisco, New York, Lebanon, Baghdad,sudan, Istanbul, among others. She also participated in numerous group exhibitions in UK, USA and Iraq. Participated in world act conferences and lectured on art. Her pieces are in permanent view in public collections as well in traveling exhibitions at the National Museum of Baghdad.

Her work has received critical acclaim and has been included in many books on the history of art. She has had radio interviews on the BBC and Voice of America

She passed away in Amman, Jordan in 2005.

Source : Madiha Umar page on Facebook

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