Born in Baghdad in 1953, Qasim Sabti became crippled as a seven-month-old baby. Because he grew up in a neighborhood with many athletes who were local heroes, he instead earned attention by distinguishing himself with his artistic abilities. As a teenager, students would pay him a falafel sandwich for a drawing or for one of his poems or love letters in beautiful Arabic calligraphy.
Upon graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad he established a workshop for Arabic calligraphy and painting. Beginning in 1985, he taught at the Baghdad University of Technology, and in 1986 participated in the first Baghdad International Biennial. In 1987, he returned to the Academy of Fine Arts to teach painting.
In 1992, Sabti founded the Hewar Art Gallery in Baghdad, which has since become an important and active oasis for Iraqi artists (“Hewar” means dialogue). He faced many obstacles in starting a gallery in the midst of the embargo because the government stopped subsidizing any art-related projects except portraits of Saddam Hussein. And, because Sabti was not allowed to travel to sell his art abroad, he had to reply upon the diplomats, journalists, and employees of the United Nations and the Red Cross who visited his gallery.]
Steve Mumford, a New York-based artist who was embedded with the coalition troops during several extended tours, described Sabti in 2003 as “a charismatic, handsome man in his 50s, who holds court most mornings in the gallery and the garden in the back, where there is a charming café, surrounded by lush plants and sheltered from the sun by a corrugated tin roof supported by antique columns. It’s the greenest place I’ve seen in Iraq, and on this particular October morning it’s buzzing with energy, with groups of men and a few women talking animatedly.” Mumford, who has received critical recognition for his watercolors documenting scenes in Baghdad, says that “Artists of Qasim’s generation were the students of the ‘Pioneers,’ the first generation of Iraqi artists to bring modernism to Iraq, often inspired by their studies not in Europe but in Turkey. Indeed, modernist abstraction influenced by European and American schools is the reigning painting style in Baghdad.”
Currently, Sabti serves as Vice-President of Iraqi Plastic Artists Society, which has 1,780 members. He is also Secretary of the Iraqi Cultural Council. His paintings are in private collections throughout Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Japan, and Korea.