Contextual Analysis – Martyr’s Epic 

Subject: Art
Type: Profile Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1420
Topics: Painting, Design


The artwork “Martyr’s Epic by Kadhim Hayder is a renowned painting which was constructed during the period of 1965. It is an oil painting laid down on canvas and depicts a miniature scenario of Iraqi battle. The painted Kadhim Hayder has used abstracted figures and shapes in his artwork and this painting is currently located in Mathaf (Arab Museum of Modern Art) in Qatar. In Marty’s Epic, Kadhim Hayder uses different shapes, intensity in colors, line, and texture to capture the energy of the battle scene that is taking place and provides an engaging and sensational interpretation of the battle itself. Weaving together poetry, allegory and pastoral landscapes, the artwork of Kadhim Hayder captures the murmurs of Iraqi socio-political history.1With reference to metaphors and symbolism, artist Kadhim Hayder has portrayed a reflection of Iraq revolution and battle of Karbala in his painting “Martyr’s Epic”.

Artistic Significance

In his painting, Kadhim Hayder integrate different shapes, intensity in colors, line, and texture to capture the energy of the battle scene that is taking action and provides a fascinating and sensual interpretation of the battles itself. Interestingly, the painting is based on a poem the painter wrote in 1965 and the artwork make references to the Battle of Karbala that brought defeat of Al Husayn ibn Ali by the Umayyad, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). So, it can be understood that the painting “Martyr’s Epic” has immense historical as well as religious significance. In the painting, the weeping white horses resembles the melancholy of mourning rituals conducted to commemorate Al Husayn’s martyrdom.

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Barjeel Art Foundation, . “Kadhim Haidar.” Barjeel Art Foundation. Accessed October 19, 2017.

The painting uses figures on the canvas, even though the warriors and the animals are unrecognizable.  The painting does not project any facial expressions or body features in the warriors and animals but the artist used his unique artistic skill to present lines and shapes to represent emotions. The red horses in the painting is showing the passion of the battle and its fierce nature as red is the color which has the power to show the strongest human emotion and power. Horse as an animal is the “King of Battlefield” and white and red horses showcases the emotions involved in the Iraq battles in a unique way.  For Kadhim Hayder, the religious inspiration of Islam comes through a sense of tragedy, in signs and symbols that makes his own; horses, helmets, swords, spears, men, women, tents, conspiracies, treacheries.2

The painting is also a commemoration to the religious festival of “Muharram” which is a grievance event of Muslims. The artist has used both organic and geometric lines such as horizontal and vertical lines from different lengths to depict the figures on the canvas.  The abstract of animals and warriors in the painting create a battle scenario struggles between death and defeat. The artist used lines to create a visual sense of   stability and solidity that makes the viewer interact with the scene depicted. The painting is unfolding a moonlit night which itself is a detailing of mourning and sorrow which is usually experienced after a day long battle. Night is the “death of the day” and moon clearly shining in the black sky is tinted by a black line which illustrates sadness presented in the scenario. The thick black lines are best described as still and solid and use of dark shades details the defeating battle ground of Karbala.

Jabra, Jabra I. “Bonhams.” Bonhams. Accessed October 19, 2017.

The Battle Energy in the Painting

The artist has used unique artistic style in his painting by using different lines and shapes. and repeated curves and arch-like lines to form the animals and the warrior’s legs gives a vibration of energy in the animal and the warriors. However, the visual philosophy of the painting is not brilliant as there no intense energy rendered in the painting. It could be said that the painting illustrates both human energy and animal energy but the red coloring in the painting is not intense enough to showcase variable energy presence. Human energy can be seen with the weapons and it is a depiction of human expression of awareness. Human has an energy expression which is lacking in animals due to the freedom we exercise. As human energy beings, human expressions of Awareness, we have a freedom that animals and other energy expressions don’t have.  We have a variable energy presence.3

The artist has used diagonal lines in the background of the painting and these random diagonals that unite with the dark background points on the horrific situation of the historical event. The battle field has given rise to many deaths and the gruesome violence and brutality of the Iraqi revolution can be seen in the face of the horses and hand emerging out at the right -hand corner of painting. These picturesque representations with colors and symbols has evoked the feeling of fear and sorrow in the minds of the viewers. There is a living energy in the hand which is reaching out and the hole in the hand represents the sacrifice and agony Iraq as a nation had to undergo during the past historical battles.

Jabra, Jabra I. “Bonhams.” Bonhams. Accessed October 19, 2017.

Iraqi Revolution in the Painting 

The painting besides being a visual treat is also a reflection of Iraq’s revolution on a political ground.  The country had a historical revolt against the British and we can see the war ground in a glimpse in the painting. Since the painting is a two – dimensional art there is lack of depth but it renders to the viewer the revolting scene of Baghdad – British war. One can perceive the sorrow in the defeat of the Shia and Sunni tribes in the war and the fear and agony was entailed by the strokes of tears painted by the artist in the facesof white horse. The huge Iraqi battalion that was killed due to the war was portrayed by the black mourning sky and black steaked moon. The hand reaching out from the right – hand corner in a beige shade looks as if it is emerging out of the ground suggest a wave of power and strength of the lost soldiers of Iraq battle.

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Hayder’s utilized various colors to install vitality and power factor in the artform. He used warm colors like red and orange in the painting to give intensity and used brown which is an earthy color to depict earth as the battle ground. The artist used a two-colored background to create intensity in the painting. Hayder used dark purple and black for the sky, which gives the viewer a sense that the battle took place throughout day and night. The moon is a witness for the bloodshed and horror of the battle and the artist is informing the viewers the losses Iraq had to undergo to form independence in its future years.

The artist Haider has used both organic and geometric shapes to represent warriors, tents and animals. Apart from it, the artist has used circles, squares, and semi- triangles.  For the depiction of animals, he mainly utilized various curves to represent the animal’s four legs, and the same curves are also used for the warrior’s legs.  So, the Iraqi revolution and its importance to horse as a warrior animal is appreciably presented by the artist. These curves display a continuous movement and gives immense vitality to the abstract figures. Hayder has used various formats   of circles for the warrior’s heads, and for the projection of their hands. Also, one can visualize the swords and armor in the painting which portrays the fighting spirit of the Iraqi force. The artist uses small repeated semi-triangular shapes to construct the top part of the head of horse and attracts the viewer in an upward motion. The sharp contours in the paining displays stability and strength in the horse figures.


With this appealing painting the artist Haider has made an impactful attempt to represent the Iraqi revolution and the effect of Battle of Karbala on the Iraqi history. The flatness of the painting can reveal the roughness of the brushstrokes and it somehow overshadows the painting prowess of the artist. However, the painting has a typical Islamic touch to it and it strongly represent the reality of  the horrific battleground along with the sense of death and defeat. The painting is filled with movement and emotions that keep the viewer engaged in the artistic work.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Anwar, Tamal. “Painting From an Energy Point of View.” Paint Rag Magazine. Accessed October 19, 2017.
  2. Barjeel Art Foundation, . “Kadhim Haidar.” Barjeel Art Foundation. Accessed October 19, 2017.
  3. Jabra, Jabra I. “Bonhams.” Bonhams. Accessed October 19, 2017.
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