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“For me, every Arabic letter is an abstract image which denotes a particular meaning. And in spite of their expressive differences, these letters become for me a source of inspiration. The letter ‘ya’ has a very strong polysemous personality. The letter ‘ayn’ which has not an equivalent in the English alphabet is powerful and effective. It has two meanings in Arabic: water and eye. Concerning the letter ‘l’, it allows the happening of light and musical moves. And since it is my conviction, I have made from the Arabic letters basic elements of my paintings. Thus, I have progressively transformed their flat and simple forms into intellectual, dynamic and expressive images. Even though I’m still experimenting, I have discovered in this alphabet possibilities which can have an impact on all creators. They then see in it meaningful images and thoughts rather than just colorful lines.”


Madiha Umar (response to Nizar Salim regarding her research and use of Arabic calligraphy in her artworks).



  • Peabody Room, Georgetown University Library, Washington, DC, 1949 

  • Abstract Painting and Arabic Calligraphy, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1949 (Annual show at the Corcoran Museum)

  • Ginn Gallery, Silver Spring, Maryland, 1949

  • Watercolors and Drawings by Madiha Omar, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, November 22- December 17, 1950 

  • Arts Club, Washington, DC, 1950

  • Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 1951

  • International Orientalist Congress, University of Istanbul, Turkey, 1951

  • Galerie Fritz, Beirut, Lebanon, 1954

  • Garden Gallery, Middle East Institute, Washington, DC, 1958

  • Middle East Club, Washington, DC, 1958

  • University Graduates Club, Washington, DC, 1961

  • Friends of the Middle East, New York, 1962

  • National Museum of Contemporary Art, Baghdad, 1968

  • Turkish Cultural Center, Baghdad, Iraq, 1971




  • Watercolors, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1948 

  • IBN Sina Exhibition, Art Institute, Baghdad, 1952

  • Drawing and Sculpture, UNESCO, Beirut, 1955 

  • Wives of the Diplomats, T.F.A. Gallery, Washington, DC, 1958 

  • Arab Artists, Middle East Institute, Washington, DC, 1960 

  • Visual Artists of Iraq, National Museum, Baghdad, 1968 

  • National Museum of Contemporary Art, Baghdad, 1971 

  • Arabic Calligraphy in Modern Art, Iraqi Cultural Center, London, 1981

  • Forces of Change: Artists of the Arab World, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, 1994 

  • Stokes of Genius: Contemporary Iraqi Art, Brunei Gallery, London 2000-2002

  • World into Art, British Museum, London, 2006

  • Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, 2009.





  • Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha

  • Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman

  • National Museum of Baghdad

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