Rafa Nasiri and May Muzaffar Archive

Artist Biography

Rafa Nasiri (Tikrit, Iraq 1940-2013) was an ingenious artist who contributed greatly to the history of printmaking in the Arab World.  He obtained a diploma in painting from the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad in 1959, and pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing (1959–1963). In 1969, he was awarded a scholarship for a program in printmaking at The Gravura in Lisbon, earning a diploma in the field. Rafa Nasiri co-founded the New Vision Group in Baghdad, and was instrumental in establishing a graphic art printing workshop at the Institute of Fine Arts there. His teaching career included roles at the University of Yarmouk in Irbid, Jordan (1991-1997), where he instructed in painting, printmaking, and design. Subsequently, he worked as a lecturer at the University of Bahrain (1997-2003), and served as the director of the Bahrain Center for the Fine Arts and Tradition. Nasiri played a key role in setting up the  printmaking studio in Asilah, Morocco, in 1979, and contributed to the establishment of a similar studio at Darat al Funun in Amman, Jordan, in 1993. He authored several books, including Contemporary Graphic Art (1997), Horizons and Mirrors (2005), and My Journey to China (2012). He was featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world, and served as a jury member for various graphic arts events. Nasiri had a close partnership with his wife, art critic and poet May Muzaffar (married in 1973 in Baghdad). They resided in Baghdad from 1974 until 1991, actively engaging with the local art scene. The couple lived and traveled inseparably until Nasiri’s passing in 2013.

Images courtesy of the Rafa Nasiri and May Muzaffar Archive, Arab Art Archive, al Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art

May Muzaffar (b. Baghdad, Iraq 1940) studied English Literature at the University of Baghdad and received training from prominent Arabic language religious and literary scholars. She went on to develop close relationships with significant literary figures of her time, including Najib al-Mani', Nizar Qabbani, and Ferial Ghazoul. Initially, she began her career in an insurance company, where simultaneously she honed her skills in art critique while engaging with the active members of Baghdad's art scene. May has authored poetry books such as Nocturnes (1994), Mail from the Orient (2003), and Absence (2014). Her contributions also extend to translating various literature and art books into Arabic, including Etel Adnan's Paris When It's Naked. Her essays were featured in publications such as Modern Art in Iraq: Continuity and Differentiation (2015) and Rafa and I: The Story of Water and Fire (2021). She served as a contributing editor for the Bahraini literary journal Thaqafat. May edited several volumes, including Cosmic Scenes (2021), Rafa Nasiri: Artist Books (2016), Rafa Nasiri: 50 Years of Printmaking (2013), and Rafa Nasiri: The Cosmic Painter (2010). May currently resides in Amman, where she manages the Rafa Nasiri Studio in Luweibdeh, Jordan, and oversees the annual Rafa Nasiri Graphic Arts Award, which celebrates Rafa's artistic and life achievements.

The Archival Collection

The material in the Rafa Nasiri and May Muzaffar Archive at the Arab Art Archive were created or collected by Rafa Nasiri and May Muzaffar, before and after their marriage that lasted 40 years, between 1974 and 2013. The earliest materials go back to the 1940s. During the events of the Gulf War, their house was robbed, but the documents that comprise the collection, as well as the art, were not stolen.

This archive, which consists of over 3,000 items, includes a unique set of journals; handwritten in great detail and illustrated by Rafa Nasiri. They include information on the personal and professional events of his life, as well as the practical details of this life. In the collection are also the working documents of May Muzaffar. These consist of brochures, invites, press clips, books, correspondence related to Iraqi art and literary scenes from the 1960s until today. The collection also includes a selection of photographs of artists' gatherings, events, trips and travels from 1963 until 2013. There are several sets of 35mm slides taken by Rafa Nasiri for documenting or teaching purposes. Some of the photographs show trips to heritage sites in Iraq or the artist’s several trips to Asilah (Morocco) as well as Germany, Portugal, Spain and China. Most of these trips were taken with Muzaffar, who is present in the images.

Digitized content will be made available to the public through the NYU Special Collections online repository and finding aid system in 2024. The collection finding aid can be found here.