x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Baghdad street football caught on canvas

A series of paintings capturing the speed and movement of football played on the streets of Baghdad is being shown at Footie Middle East.

Huthyfa Abdul Zahra poses with his work at the Middle East Footie exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
Huthyfa Abdul Zahra poses with his work at the Middle East Footie exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // A series of paintings capturing the speed and movement of football played on the streets of Baghdad is being shown at Footie Middle East, a three-day sport-related exhibition that began at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company yesterday. "The first word I ever said was football. It wasn't Mum or Dad," said the Iraqi artist Huthyfa Abdul Zahra, whose exhibit is entitled Football Passion.

His pop art-style paintings, which retail for around Dh7,000 (US$1,900), give the viewer a glimpse of life on the pitch rather than focusing on the portrait-style details that are usually seen in photographs. He and his five brothers formed a team of their own and whether it was in their front room with a ping-pong ball or on the streets, football was always a strong part of the artist's life. So much so, much of his work is drawn from memory.

"So much of the movement is already in my mind," he said. "I played for so long for two to three hours a day that it's inside me." His first exhibition was in 1998 at the French Cultural Centre in Baghdad, where he sold his first piece, called Red Card, to the French ambassador. "At the time it was something new. It had never been done regionally so people were quite excited about it, uniting art and football. It meant that you didn't have to understand art to understand my work. It reaches out to everyone."

Since moving to Abu Dhabi five years ago, Mr Zahra has exhibited in locations such as the Alliance Française to coincide with the 2006 World Cup. Some of his subjects have included the likes of England's David Beckham and France's Zinedine Zidane but his favourite is the Argentine, Diego Maradona the man he calls his all time hero. "He is a legend." The Fifa Club World Cup tournament, which began on Wednesday, is his next event to paint. He and his son will watch the action this weekend, and he hopes to draw inspiration for his new work.

mswan@thenational.ae