Google dedicated a doodle on its homepage Saturday to the late Naziha Salim, one of the most influential painters in Iraq’s contemporary art history. The Google artwork depicts Salim’s body divided in two—one half is caught in the act of painting, the other portrays her long-time subject matter, rural Iraqi women and pastoral life.
Salim was born in 1927 into a family of Iraqi artists in Turkey. Her brother, Jawad, is widely considered one of Iraq’s greatest sculptors. After relocating to Baghdad, Salim established herself as one of the few female artists to command influence in the male-dominated Iraqi art scene of the 1940s and ’50s. She studied painting at the Baghdad Fine Arts Institute and, after graduation, became one of the first women to attend the École des Beaux Arts in Paris on a government scholarship.
She had a straightforward style of painting, preferring simple compositions, bold brushstrokes, and vibrant color palettes. Unusually for the time, she centered the daily lives and desires of Iraqi women in her paintings. Whether tending fields, herding donkeys, or posing in an urban portrait, her female subjects radiated selfhood. Salim often juxtaposed these contemporary settings with references to Iraqi religious and political history, presenting individuals as knots in a broader cultural weaving.
At the time of her death in 2008, former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, praised her as “the first Iraqi woman who anchored the pillars of Iraqi contemporary art.”
Her artwork is in the collections of the Sharjah Art Museum, the Modern Art Iraq Archive, and the Barjeel Art Foundation. In 2019, she was included in a show of modern Arab art at the Sharjah Art Museum dedicated to the movement’s undocumented or understudied female pioneers.