AMMAN- On a dim-lit and otherwise undisturbed street in Jabal Amman in November last week, visitors arrived in twos and threes, their coats and scarves enjoying what might have been their first night out this season. It was the opening night of Material Resilience at Q0DE gallery, a shared exhibition between Syrian artists Juhayda Al Bitar (b. 1991) and Alaa Sharabi (b. 1988), who were displaying their artwork together for the first time as a married couple.

Juhayda Al Bitar, Material Resilience, 2019, courtesy of q0de.

All four rooms of the space held both Bitar and Sharabi’s work side by side without specifying who created what. But if you were familiar with the artists’ backgrounds, you could easily tell. Bitar, who earned her Master’s degree in painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, works in what initially strikes the viewer as pure abstraction. Her paintings, abstractions of acrylic on canvas, are filled with clashing colors: black and yellow, red and blue.

Juhayda‘s paint takes form, often in circles, short strokes and dots, as if she is dividing the canvas into sections that tell a tale. One memorable piece hangs at the entrance of the gallery, portraying little rings, some of which are scattered while others hang closely together. This is a story of people coming together and breaking apart and returning to one another.

The entire exhibition more or less reflects on Syria- its war, its past, and its mark on the artists’ memories. It is a reflection dripping with nostalgia due to  the couple’s exile to Dubai, where they now reside.

Juhayda Al Bitar, Material Resilience, 2019, courtesy of q0de.
I used to focus more on painting figures and shapes. After that I decided to search for myself in new ways. It wasn’t possible to restrict myself to one single artform, and there was no reason to do that. Most of the time, when I’m creating art, I’m talking as well. It’s like a dialogue or a conversation between me and the painting. I believe we can all coexist like these different colors on the canvas. -Juhayda Al Bitar
Alaa Sharabi, Material Resilience, 2019, courtesy of q0de.

Sharabi, on the other hand, dabbles in a different form of art making. He also earned his master’s degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, but he specialized in print-making. His exhibited pieces comprise of layered work of mixed media in acrylics and charcoal applied on his surfaces using a sugar printing technique the artist coined himself.

In the left wing of the space, two of his pieces titled Man-Made Destruction and Monarchy hang side by side, depicting colorless faces, torsos and limbs imprisoned behind thin scribbles of black charcoal swirls. Only hints of color, mainly red, can be spotted in buried pockets of the art. Many of the faces belong to figures of historical and cultural significance to the region. “This is a treasure that is being threatened by war. It is being destroyed or stolen and so I try to shed some light on it” Sharabi told artmejo.

Alaa Sharabi, Mothers, 2019, Mixed media on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, courtesy of q0de.

In another room, his work focuses on the womb and what it holds in abstract and concrete significance. In one work, a pregnant woman with a body expanded in odd shapes and angles makes room for all the future possibilities her child may be born into.

I was trying to think about how a child might feel when they are still in the womb, knowing that they are going to be born into war. At the same time, there is also the fear a mother has for her unborn child. I tried to create a dialogue between the two. – Alaa Sharabi
Accordion display of paper works by Sharabi and Bitar at q0de.

Both artists find themselves suspended in the midpoint between mourning the past and anticipating the future.

Like an accordion, the artist couple swings in one studio harmonizing their creativity in individualised styles. Exhibited at Material Resilience were six pairs of paper works displayed like an accordion on a wall. Each pair of artwork had a piece by Sharabi and another by Bitar opposing one another. While the couple worked independently for the rest of their pieces, this accordion was a joint creation whereby Sharabi and Bitar would take turns depicting the same words visually on paper. The artists drew war, rain, nighttime and in many pieces, viewers witnessed a shared memory between the artist couple materialised in opposing artistic styles.

Work by Sharabi (left) and Bitar (right) as seen at Material Resilience, image courtesy of q0de.

“Even when we explore topics that are similar, you’d find that each one of us is swimming in their own universe,” says Bitar. “In our studio, you’ll see each of us has their side. But we always ask for each other’s opinions. But at the end of the day, the final decision goes back to the creator of the art”.

Juhayda and I follow two different trajectories in art,” adds Sharabi. “But it’s only natural when you put two artists together that they start influencing each other.”

Material Resilience is the debut exhibition for Ala’a Sharabi and Juhayda Bitar in Jordan and their first as an artist couple internationally. The exhibition is ongoing at q0de art space in Amman through January 15th.

Read more from Sima Qunsol.
Image courtesy indicated in captions.