AMMAN- DAR Art Fair opened its doors at Swefieh Village on June 14th and is running  through July 5th. Gathering 11 galleries and over 160 local and regional artists, this art fair is the biggest art gathering in Jordan, as well as the first major art event to happen since the pandemic began. DAR Art Fair aims to uplift and support young emerging artists just entering the scene whilst also celebrating the pioneers of Jordanian contemporary art, and make art more accessible to Jordanian society. 

DAR Art Fair Entrance, Sculpture by Hazem Al Zoubi

The art fair opens with a striking sculpture by Hazem Zoubi reminiscent of the prehistoric two-headed Ain Ghazal statues, speaking to the ideas of timelessness and intersectionality that DAR Art seeks to convey. By exhibiting the works of young emerging artists alongside works by well-renowned established pioneers, DAR Art dismantles the structures of elitism and hierarchy that typically govern such art fairs. Instead, it focuses on the universality of art as a means of self-expression; in the words of co-founder Dina Dabbas Rifai, “Art is life. Art is the expression of suffering. Art is the expression of beauty”. Co-founder Rania Omeish says this exhibition style is meant to provoke conversations between old masters and young emerging artists, in hopes of exchanging wisdoms and philosophies. When asked about this democratic approach, emerging sculptor Tamara El-Ali said, “I think it’s a great opportunity for us emerging artists to begin to establish a name and a voice. This is our time to claim the course of Jordanian art history”. Barbara Rowell from Jacaranda Images, too, observed that DAR Art is far “more egalitarian” than traditional art fairs. She noted it focuses a lot more on the relationships between the viewers and the works, and between artists amongst one another.

DAR Art Fair exhibition room, hanging artwork left to right by Walid Ebeid, Mohammad El Shammarey and Zaid Shawa.

The fair also seeks to “make art accessible” to Jordanian society and “remove the elitist barrier between art and the public”, in Dina Dabbas Rifai’s words. Located in Swefieh Village, the latest of Amman’s ever-changing hubs, the fair attracts several facets of the Jordanian public and exposes them to artists and galleries of which they were previously unaware. Both Rania Omeish and Dina Dabbas Rifai express the importance of using such fairs and exhibits as a tool to remove the fear factor that prevents several individuals from approaching and learning about art. 

DAR Art Fair mural by Naji Al Ali, Sara Allan, Seddek Abughoush and Ahmad Turki

Outside the exhibition space and around Swefieh Village, several murals adorn the walls. Dina Dabbas Rifai told artmejo that they invited these muralists to paint the spaces surrounding the fair in order to legitimize and insist on graffiti as an art form. Rania Omeish added that the murals beautify the space and acclimate society’s eyes to art and visual imagery. Two of the muralists that were invited to create these works, Sara Allan and Ahmad Turki, collaborated with other artists on a piece. They expressed their surprise and joy at the impromptu nature of their collaboration: “The piece was unplanned. Ahmad started drawing the body, and I drew a snake wrapped around it, and other artists started adding more elements to the piece till it came to this”.

DAR Art Fair Wall of Hope, all donations to go to JHCO
DAR Art Fair, Freedom by Mai Qaddoura and Gaza Chair by Amer Abidi and Omar Sartawi

In light of the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza, the horrific attacks on Al-Aqsa, and the forced ethnic displacement of families from Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and Nablus, the fair has included a ‘Wall of Hope’ where several digital artworks about Palestine are displayed. The proceeds from these artworks will be donated to the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. The fair also includes several other works concerning the Palestinian cause like Karma Shawwa’s Children of the Diaspora and the installations Freedom by Mai Qaddoura and The Gaza Chair by Omar Sartawi, and Amer Abidi.

Settled Citizen by Walid Ebeid represented by Fann a Porter at DAR Art Fair

Inside, a multitude of carefully-curated pieces fill the space. One particularly striking work, Walid Ebeid’s The Seated Citizen, explores the idea of state surveillance as a form of persecution. The painting depicts a ‘citizen’ seated at a desk. In front of him, an absurd collection of objects break through the wooden desk, but the citizen pays them no heed. He looks onward in a trance-like state, perpetually monitored by the security camera to his right. In the back, blood seeps from a file-keeping drawer, as if to equate state surveillance to the practice of public execution, a theme explored in Michael Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

In addition to such works by individual artists, the fair includes works by several other artists represented by galleries. Gallerist Ghada Kunash is representing both Ebeid and Omar Najjar with Fann A Porter. Najjar’s works focus on the intimacy of human interactions, and the synesthesia of visual images and experiences. Kunash compares his paintings with the ‘live photo’ iPhone feature, in that the works recreate a specific moment in time with such delicacy that the viewer can almost see what happened seconds before, and what will happen seconds later. Najjar’s works get progressively more abstract, yet maintain their focus on connecting the viewer with the moments the artist witnesses and recreates.

artmejo’s booth at DAR Art Fair

The fair was an exciting gathering of Jordanian art. In it, 11 different galleries and art spaces took part representing a brilliant selection of work from their catalogues. The galleries present at DAR Art were Rowaq Al Balqa, Nabad Art Gallery, Jacaranda Images, KARIM Gallery, JODAR Artistry, Q0DE, Fann a Porter, The Corner Art Space, The Artinerary, Art From the Strip as well as artmejo which represented emerging artists Aya Abu Ghazaleh, Diana Quandour, Mays Dweiri and Sama Shahrouri

Aya Abu Ghazaleh and Diana Quandour’s artwork represented by artmejo at DAR Art Fair

Aya Abu Ghazaleh presented three paintings which contain impressions of old family photos amid reimagined Palestinian landscapes, in attempts to recreate her old memories and reconnect with her heritage. Across from her, although seemingly bright and cheerful, Diana Quandour’s paintings carry an eerie feel. She tells the story of one of her paintings: “One day, this phantom figure came along and insisted I paint their portrait”.

Mays Dweiri and Sama Shahrouri’s artwork represented by artmejo at DAR Art Fair

Mays Dweiri’s paintings present a surreal ominous take on mundane themes. In one of them, she is showcasing an endogenous figure holding a half-raised cup of coffee with another figure drowning within. This work by Dweiri initiated dozens of conversations around artmejo’s booth from all types of audiences. Lastly, Shahrouri’s collection of three resin sculptures represented Tyche, the protector of ancient Philadelphia expressing Abundance, Risk and Balance.

Viewers walking around DAR Art Fair

DAR Art Fair is very progressive in its approach to reviving such events in Amman. By exhibiting works by Wijdan Ali, Muhanna Durra and Amar Dawod alongside artists like Saad Rabadi, Ridikkuluz, and Shamekh Bluwi, DAR Art detaches itself from elitist standards typically assumed by similar events. Its location in Swefieh Village, too, serves a big role in removing the barrier between art and Jordanian society. In Dina Dabbas Rifai’s words, “DAR Art seeks to expose the Jordanian artists and show the world how much talent we have”.

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