‘Memory is a great artist. For every man and for every woman it makes the recollection
of his or her life a work of art and an unfaithful record.’ French author, Andre Maurois
The Iraqi artist Sadiq Toma’s work, explores the art of memory or ars memoriae. This is an ancient collection of techniques which aids recall by managing the impressions memory creates. It allows a person to improve their ability to remember while also helping with the formulation of ideas. Toma is also keen to point out memory is a construct. He says it is a fragment, a subjective perspective and should always be viewed with an element of scepticism.
The overall concept of ars memoriae has existed for thousands of years. Pythogorans and Ancient Egyptians were certainly aware of techniques such as associating emotionally striking memories with specific locations. Or making inks between groups of images or images with schematic graphics like signs. All forms of markings do, in fact all play their part. Toma has used these practices to represent perspectives in new and dynamic forms.
For Sadiq Toma, it is evident, new themes and inspiration, ironically, come from distant memories and the past. Yet, Toma is not content to merely excavate his own personal memories. He also embraces the memories of an entire ancient civilisation belonging to Iraq. He constantly searches for a sense of fulfilment across a canvas. Although Toma, like all humanity, is influenced by the past, he is equally concerned by the present or future. Both of which are destined, in themselves, to be transformed into memory.
Sumerian art is also an influence, but Toma has no desire to be either excavator or archaeologist. He constantly searches for a fresh view of life, death, love and ritual as seen in his work entitled, Love Poem. He acknowledges Gilgamesh and his own quest and questions about the fate of mortals.
However, simply by having an acquaintance of Sumerian art, such as fragments of clay tablets depicting cuneiform writing, is enough to affect the present. Toma transforms hidden visions into contemporary forms such as Amorous Poem 8. By employing a variety of materials, Toma’s work explores and reflects an intense belief this specific period was one of the most profound influences within his Iraqi roots.
The paintings exhibited at the Lahd Gallery(link) show an artist who has selected, rejected, reworked and represented, almost as if he has created a form of ‘tagging’. Arabic letters and technical tools are lifted and represented. The construction of the artworks sometimes spill from the frame as memory burst from the confines we attempt to construct for it see Amorous Poem 3
He may use characters as decorative texts but does not make any reference or specific indication as to where they have been gleaned see Tree Sometimes these references are obscure and at other times well known poetic texts. Typography is refashioned. Words and symbols are seemingly scattered across the picture. Therefore Toma’s contrast, between the construction of calligraphic form and the semi abstract natural background, present a provocative dichotomy. They function as a form of palimpsest; here the spiritual and unconscious appear and disappear within works such as Amorous Poem or Oasis.
As Tagore once explained:
‘'Oh my soul, don't seek for eternity but do your best to achieve the most of your limited life.'
Sadiq Toma has certainly taken these words to heart.
Brief Biographical Detail of Sadiq Toma