Unlike many of his Iraqi contemporaries, Kakafian was renowned for the breadth of his oeuvre. Exploring Chinese inkwork, expressionism, miniatures throughout his practice he also interestingly spent time creating avant-garde political propaganda posters during the rise of Arab Nationalism in the 1960s. Produced in the late 1960s and 1990s, the present examples (lot 73 and lot 74) pay homage to pain, sadism and identity. Grappling with both myth and memory, Kakafian is described as an “explorer of a self-diaspora,” by celebrated Egyptian modernist artist and dear friend Ahmed Morsi, who also articulately characterised his oeuvre as “an eloquent mesh of personal architecture and poetry” (Exh. Cat., Washington D.C., Alif Gallery, Ardash, 15 May - 15 June 1986).
The death of Kakafian's mother during childbirth parlayed the artist into a distressed childhood, which becomes evident in his body of work. Message from Heaven from 1967 is the artist’s attempt to conjure messages of love and acceptance from his mom using the symbol of a mythical bird. The painting presents the Ba-Bird, which according to Egyptian Ptolemaic myths is a manifestation of a person’s non-physical being. According to the legends, the Ba-Bird has the ability to travel between the afterlife and the mortal world, hence its strong association with death and the connotation with his late mother. Kakafian’s confusion, guilt and yearning for a maternal figure are manifested in this painting, where he imagines a relationship with his mother and creates closure through the fantastical Ba-Bird.
In contrast to the melancholy seen in Message from Heaven from 1967, Reconciliation between Cubism and Surrealism (Portrait of Arshyl Gorky) painted in the 1990s pays homage to a loved and respected idol. Bold crimson and aquamarine are tempered with dusty browns and muted greys, highlighting Kakafian’s bravery in embracing self-expression and vulnerability. Arshyl Gorky – is ab artist who had a profound effect on Kakafian. This striking piece is an impassioned ode to the Armenian Abstract Impressionist Gorky, who similarly struggled between classical training and a desire to expand and explore alternative mediums. Kakafian’s desire to create a universal language can be found within this canvas, merging Eastern and Western practices, and marrying realism with surrealism.
Kakafian’s bold and fragmented subjects betray his artistic wanderlust as he reconciles his traditional training in figurative realism with an ardour for abstraction and surrealism as seen in his works from both the 1960s and 1990s. With exceptional honesty and candour, the relationships between pain and art, as well as brutality and beauty are explored through this inventive yet artistically vulnerable collection. Sotheby’s is proud to present two works that truly showcase the brevity of this exceptional artist. Celebrating two figures in his life who proved intrinsic to his practice, this duo forms a contrasting yet harmonious insight into intricacies of memory and the complexity of the human condition.
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