|Education||Sultaniyya School, Istanbul; Maria Grey Training College, London; George Washington University, Washington (education); Corcoran School of Art, Washington (fine arts)|
|Known for||Abstract art, Modern Arab art|
|Movement||One Dimension Group; Hurufiyya movement|
Madiha Omar (1908 – 2005 in Aleppo) (Arabic: مديحه عمر) is an Iraqi artist who is known for incorporating calligraphy with abstract art. She is generally perceived as the first Arab artist to have done this. Therefore, she is seen as the precursor to the Hurufiyya movement. Also, Omar was the first female to receive a scholarship from the Iraqi government to study in Europe.
Life and career
Madiha was born in Aleppo, Syria. Her father Circassian and her mother Syrian. However, the family moved to Iraqi when she was a young girl. Omar attended the Sultaniyya School in Istanbul, where she drew praise from Ali Riza for her painting skills. She then trained as a teacher at the Maria Grey Training College in London in the 1930s, graduating with First class honours in Arts and Crafts in 1933. She then taught painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad, becoming head of department before leaving in 1942. She became a naturalised Iraqi.
In 1939 she married Yasin Umar, a diplomat. In 1942 she moved to Washington, to accompany her husband, whose appointment as a member of the Iraqi Commission took him to the capital. In the US, she came across a book on Arabic calligraphy by Islamic scholar, Nabia Abbott and this inspired her to explore the possibilities of incorporating letters into her arwork.
She first began to explore the idea of integrating Arabic letters into painting in the 1940s and in 1949, with the encouragement of art historian, Richard Ettinghausen, she exhibited a series of 22 hurufist-inspired paintings at Georgetown Public Library in Washington. For this, she generally earns the reputation as the first Arab artist of the modern era to have incorporated Arabic letters into her art, and the first artist to have exhibited such works. Later in the same year, she wrote the book, Arabic Calligraphy: An Element of Inspiration in Abstract Art.
In 1952, Omar participated in the Ibn Sina exhibition, held at the Art Institute in Baghdad with 48 paintings, all of which employed Arabic letters in a modern, secular artwork. This event brought her work to the attention of Middle-Eastern artists. She has been variously acclaimed as the pioneer of a movement or as the precursor to the movement that now carries the name, Huryfiyya art movement. 
In 1971 she joined the One Dimension Group founded by Shakir Hassan Al Said; a group that sought to synthesise indigenous art with European trends and successfully bridged the gap between heritage and modernity.
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- Treichl, C., Art and Language: Explorations in (Post) Modern Thought and Visual Culture, Kassel University Press, 2017, p. 117.
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