Zaha Hadid @ Serpentine Sackler

Of all those who left us in 2016, one of the most heartbreaking and devastating losses to the world of art and architecture was the premature death of Dame Zaha Hadid. The Iraqi-born, Lebanese and British educated architect was a pioneer and an inspiration to many. The exhibition of her drawings at the Serpentine Sackler gallery serve as a reminder and testament to her legacy.

What makes this show so special is that the images have been displayed in a building that Hadid designed herself, and which was opened in 2013. Not only did Hadid pay a pivotal role in the Serpentine’s second gallery, but she was also the designer of the first annual summer pavilion in 2000 and had been a trustee of the Serpentine since 1996. Her stunning Sackler gallery now proudly displays drawings, paintings and plans that date between the 1970s and 1990s.

When you walk into the gallery you are overcome with colour. Hadid’s illustrations do not look like architectural plans. While one can see that she has been influenced by geometry with the dispersal of sharp-edged shapes flying across the images, the colour drawings and paintings look more like works of art in their own right than preparatory sketches for buildings. Vibrant blues and reds serve as the backdrop to Hadid’s illustrations, in which she predominantly uses a primary colour palette. The artist was inspired by the Russian constructivists Kazimir Malevich, Tatlin Vladimir and Alexander Rodchenko. This influence is clear immediately. Though it does seem a little strange that someone who grew up in the Middle East could have been so strongly inspired by soviet Russia.

Many of the works are overwhelmingly large, causing the viewer to stop and stare in admiration. However, if you get up close, the finer details make themselves apparent. Hadid has an acute attention to detail, something that is essential to the art of architecture. One can only imagine what these images may have looked like had they actually been built. Hadid who was born in Basra, Iraq, grew up in Beirut and attended the same high school as my mother before studying Maths at the American University of Beirut. She then went on to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 1972 and made the UK her home. Zaha Hadid Architects was founded in 1979 and her first building, the Vitra Fire Station was opened in Germany in 1993.

In one part of the gallery, some of Hadid’s notebooks are displayed. Here we can see her academic and mathematical background. Her scribbles have all been made on graph paper as opposed to unruled white pages. Sections of the pages have been gauged out so that her pen can have a permanent home in the sketchbooks that she carried everywhere. By displaying the drawings and paintings in an art gallery, the Serpentine reaffirms the notion that Hadid’s buildings are not mere buildings; they are habitable sculptures, works of art, to be admired for both aesthetic and functional purposes.

Among the drawings are designs for buildings located everywhere from Hong Kong to London. Her images look like they are from another world. Metropolis, 1998, a deep red masterpiece, has a strong futuristic feel, like something out of a sci-fi movie. Hans Ulrich Obrist has been quoted as saying that Hadid anticipated digital design and he is most probably right.

This exhibition is Hadid’s first posthumous show and a poignant a tribute to her life and work. Not to be missed.

Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings is on display at Serpentine Sackler until 12 February

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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