Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 15th January 2017

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Zaha Hadid’s early paintings exhibited in London

Works on display show harmonious blend of art and architecture with integrated colours and superb colour schemes.


Zaha Hadid: 'I have always been interested in the concept of fragmentation and with ideas of abstraction and explosion.'

Zaha Hadid: “I have always been interested in the concept of fragmentation and with ideas of abstraction and explosion.”

London - Are they architectural drawings or are they works of art? This question inevitably comes to mind when visiting the Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings exhibition at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The works on display show a harmonious blend of art and architecture with integrated colours and superb colour schemes. Hadid was also a designer who created magnificent, unique ceramics, scarves and candleholders.

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery – one of Hadid’s first permanent buildings in London – has a superb design creating space to enjoy the exhibition in tranquil surroundings. Hadid joined the Serpentine Gallery as a trustee in 1996 and in 2000 she built the first Serpentine Summer Pavilion.

This was followed by a light installation, Lilas, in 2007 and in 2013 she completed the renovation and extension of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, which houses her current exhibition.

The Serpentine Gallery shop offers limited edition prints and books about Hadid’s work, along with silk scarves and unique ceramics she designed. The exhibition was developed in partnership with Swarovski, manufacturers of high-quality crystals, with which Hadid collaborated to create lighting installations, sculpture, jewellery and home decor.

The displayed works are mainly in acrylic and ink on cartridge paper and the style is influenced by the work of Russian painter Kazimir Malevich. Geometric shapes emerge from the canvases, their interpretation left to the imagination of the visitor.

Also on display are calligraphy and sketches from Hadid’s notebooks and paintings and drawings created from the 1970s to the early 1990s before she completed her first building – the Vitra Fire Station in Germany in 1993. She often used calligraphic sketches to visualise ideas and spaces, sometimes using paintings as precursors to buildings. For her painting was a design tool.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of the Serpentine Gallery, explained that the aim of the exhibition is “to show the extraordinary art” of Hadid, who died last year. “We felt it is very important in London to pay homage to her and to celebrate her work, particularly her amazing art work, which is less well known,” Obrist said.

“There was a long history of Zaha Hadid with the Serpentine, so it was appropriate that we celebrate her life and work at the Serpentine because she was a trustee and she built two pavilions for us.

I was very close friends with Zaha Hadid. I have done many books and interviews with her. In her last lecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects she showed amazing sketches connected with her childhood in Baghdad that were rarely exhibited. I planned the exhibition with her.”

Obrist described Hadid as one of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. He emphasised that her work has many different dimensions and cannot be reduced to one theme.

“During the ‘70s and ‘80s she anticipated the digital age and invented a genuinely new language,” he said. “Only digital technology allowed the buildings she designed to be built. What makes her buildings so unique is their amazing energy.”

Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before moving to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture where she was awarded the Diploma Prize in 1977. She founded Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979.

Hadid was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and is internationally known for her built, theoretical and academic work. The MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku are among her works.

Zaha Hadid Architects has 950 projects in 44 countries. Among recently completed projects is Oxford University’s Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College. The firm is working on a diversity of projects, including the new Beijing airport terminal in Daxing, China, the Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and 520 West 28th Street in New York.

Obrist said: “We are just beginning to see the legacy of one of the greatest artists and architects of our time. She was one of the most charismatic people one could meet in one’s lifetime. She had thousands of projects and ideas. Many were realised towards the end of her life. Her legacy is in the buildings which will be built, like the extension to the Science Museum in London and a public building in Antwerp.

“Thirty building projects are going to be built and there will be more and more recognition of her work. The world of architecture is dominated by men. She had an amazing impact as one of the first women in architecture. She is a role model who gave so much courage to young people. Her legacy will grow and grow.”

Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings runs through February 12th at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.