Jaber Alwan’s Biography – by Luigi Martini

Jaber Alwan’s Biography – by Luigi Martini

Jaber (labor Alwan Salman) was born near Babylon; nobody knows exactly when, not even he himself does. When the government decides to register the subjects of these outlying areas, Jaber receives a date of birth – 1st July 1948.
The Iraqi agricultural landscape is the backdrop against which he grows up, a horse his bicycle.
His love of drawing becomes evident towards the end of his elementary school years: from then on he will never abandon figurative invention. In 1966 he moves, with his paint brushes, but without his horse, to Baghdad to enroll in the Institute of Fine Arts:
” … a serious institute, of a high level, where only subjects strictly related to art were taught.
The University of Literature and Philosophy was near our institute, an area of the city frequented by professors and artists, intellectual exchange was lively in the bars in the evening, and we young students were encouraged to study, to read, to be informed. Iraq, among the Arab nations, was considered the country of poets and painters; narrative, unlike in the Egyptian or Lebanese reality was not very widespread, while theatre was present …… “
The period of discovery of color begins principally with Rasul Alwan, landscape and figure painting teacher in the 2nd year, who is a graduate from a German university and is capable of transmitting the sensibility of German expressionist painting.
In 1970 Jaber receives his diploma and moves to the holy city of Karbala to teach.
Repression against the people, dissenters and intellectuals is systematic. It is time to make radical decisions.
On December 12th 1972 he is in Rome to continue his research at the Academy, but also for other reasons. He studies sculpture with E. Greco until 1975, then takes a painting course with F. Gentilini until 1978. Meanwhile Jaber enters the Italian art world; the museum and galleries, churches and architecture add to his artistic formation.
“… the relationship with Italian painting and sculpture constitutes the experience that allowed my artistic growth. Seeing a work of art by Michelangelo, Raffaello paintings, Caravaggio ‘s color right up to futurism, arte povera and also the new figurative art of the ’60 ‘s and ’70 ‘s, was my true experience of study, of the setting out of a picture …… Then one must not forget the role played by Italian cinema in my formation. Fellini, for example, taught me a lot, the mystery of light and of composition. Italy, its ambiance, its cities continuously offer stimuli. I would go to the Castles and a new panorama presented itself to me, such a short distance away; then the sea, all so close…”
The metropolitan, international society added other “ingredients”.
Piazza Navona provides him with a living, joint exhibitions a first contact with the art market. From abstract research he moves to the expressionism of the years between 1973 and 1980, while he commits himself to fight for the cause of liberty in Iraq, against the war with Iran and for the unity of the intellectuals forced to flee. Around and with Jaber, Rome and Italy mobilize democratic initiatives.

It is in the ’80’s that his painting frees itself and re – emerges with the “humours”, perfumes and colors of his land.
“… the changing of the colors of the seasons, from the tender green of Spring to intense green and to the brown and yellows of autumn. Riding a horse through the green of the fruit orchards to the bare earth of the fields, to stop and sleep under the infinite variation of colors of palm trees and the shimmering of the different blues among their leaves. I asked myself why, as a child, I always spent my time in these surroundings; I discovered that my desire was for beauty, the water of the river in which I swam even when it was cloudy, full of the earth that the rainstorms brought. All these colors penetrated into my mind, with their psychological implications too: the violence of menstrual red, the black of the mourning dresses of the women, and of the ten days set aside every year in remembrance of Hussein, son of prophet Ali. The colors of the open – air popular festivals, which a centuries-old production revived during the religious holidays dedicated to the memory of the sacrifice of Hussein and his entire family in Karbala. Like a great medieval tournament every year the battle was reconstructed, the Shiite horsemen of Hussein dressed in green, black and gold, the Sunnite troops entirely in red. Then the black of the Iraqi women’s chadors, capable of suddenly revealing, while unfolding, the bright colors of their dresses, of desire… “

At last, Jaber allows himself to re – read his own history, through the painful rifts of its more recent chapters too. He combines everything to achieve his own particular representation, made possible by the maturity he has reached. Now Jaber wants to embrace the world from which he emerged. Jaber is an artist, remarkable, just as he is a “nomad”.

It is important to know that the history of European painting is in his pictorial mastery, and that in his “memory” – and in his pictures and drawings the women, the men, the land of the Middle East.

Now Piazza Navona is only a place to remember.

In Belgium, Syria, France, Lebanon, England, the Arab Emirates, etc., his art speaks of the land, of war, of women; exhibitions and publications follow one after the other.

It is worthwhile to ask oneself if he is Iraqi, Italian or something else again.

For certain it is known that, in September 1995, the then Minister of the Interior relents after more than 10 years of strenuous resistance. And so be it: experiences, “history”, people, ideas, just like painting, are stronger than “nationality”.