AMMAN- The exhibition Spaces opened at Fann A Porter Amman in October.  Curated by both artmejo and the gallery, it featured a body of work from five emerging Arab artists: Laila El-Taweel, Lina Khaled, Sama Shahrouri, Tawfiq Dawi, and Zeina Salameh. The exhibited artwork ranges from photography, installation work, sculpture, prints to animation and explores each individual artist’s interpretation of space. 

Lina Khaled • Digital Print • 30×42 cm • 450JOD • Framed

The exhibition opened with Lina Khaled’s analogue photography series Sea Rumination. Her black and white seascapes and portraits are lined up on a wall, allowing the viewer to pause at each work and step back to experience them as a whole. Khaled showcases her interest in the body’s relationship to the sea in these works. In her artist statement, she wonders, “What if we were all sea creatures, and when God banished us, we turned into human beings?…I wonder what would happen if…instead of dying we turn into the Sea.” These reflections become most accessible to the viewer in Freckles of the Sea, where the graininess of the photo merges sea and sky, and the oft-trodden path leads to an ambiguous infinite horizon. The focal point of the photograph is where land meets sea.  

Laila El Taweel •Various Material • Site-Specific Installation • Not for Sale

On the opposite wall, Laila El-Taweel’s installation Personal Space intimidates and confuses the viewer. She surrounds a framed poem, presumably about herself, with a tape tattooed with a ‘do not cross’ order that prevents the viewer from approaching the work. From such a distance, the writing is barely legible. The struggle the viewer faces while attempting to read the piece reminds one of the space between the artist and the viewer in a traditional gallery style exhibition. In an interview with artmejo, El-Taweel elaborates that this tape “represents how our space might be defensive to those who want to be close to us.El-Taweel thus succeeds in her attempt to “set authentic boundaries” to protect herself. In our interview, El-Taweel shared her inspiration and intentions for this work: after only recently learning about the importance of setting personal boundaries, she wanted to encourage each of  her viewers to “create safe and balanced personal boundaries.” 

Sama Shahrouri, Shadow Play series at Fann A Porter, Amman, 2020.

Sama Shahrouri too, contemplates this relationship with the viewer in her Shadow Play series.  She presents a series of plaster sculptures amid a maze of cement blocks that the viewer has to trespass in order to access the works. Shahrouri pushes the boundaries of traditional exhibition space and challenges the viewer to reexamine their own pre-existing ideas of what it means to experience artworks in a gallery setting. She told us, “I always hope that viewers are left placing themselves within the scenes of my work. Maybe think of themselves as the protagonists in the compositions.” The blocks are arranged in a nonsensical manner, inviting the viewer to take whichever path he or she chooses, reflecting her intentions that the viewers may see themselves in the works. Shahrouri’s work depicts her three studios which she occupied since 2019.  Her surreal indistinct spaces host an austere presence, which Shahrouri describes in her artist statement as “the protagonists of the work…unseen monolithic structures slowly intruding into the setting from concealed angles outside the composition.” Their presence is “only suggested through the cast of their sharp triangular shadows.” To Shahrouri, “Space is directly linked to vastness. Empty corners, hallways, compositions [are] an invitation to refill the emptiness with new possibilities.

Tawfiq Dawi, Insignificances at Fann A Porter Amman, 2020.

Tawfiq Dawi also challenges traditional means of exhibition. His prints hang from the ceiling, suspending his ghostly forms in a stillness dependent upon its environment. This contrasting stillness and fluidity reflects his fascination with “the dualities of life and death; growth and decay; and the human impulses to both creation and to destruction.” His collection Insignificance constitutes eerie elongated anthropomorphic figures suspended in negative space. He relates this negative space to the theme of the exhibition, and deems it “more important than the span of the artwork.” In this group of works, Dawi seeks to explore people’s relationship with the unknown. His Insignificance 037 makes this concept particularly clear, as he casts a line of obscure figures across a page of a screenplay, omitting information necessary for the comprehension of the writing.

Zeina Salameh, Passage at Fann A Porter Amman, 2020.

In the other room, Zeina Salameh’s Passage series tells the story of the little balcony of her childhood room. This collection consists of 16 zinc prints and an accompanying video narrating this story and attempting to convey “the nostalgia of what [her] family used to share in that very small spot of [their] house.”  Salameh uses etching techniques on zinc to create the prints, which composed the frames of the animation. The prints were chronologically lined up on a wall adjacent to where the animation is projected with a magnifying glass available for spectators to better examine her intricate work. The care and detail with which she handles her works, along with the mellifluous titles she gives the prints speak to the affection the artist held for this space. In her artist statement she recalls, “The little balcony of our room was the first thing that I checked when I went home [for the] first time after 7 years of war.”  She later elaborated in our interview, “I was surprised at myself for doing this; I expected to go to my room, but I went straight to the balcony, and I realized how important this space was to me.”  

The idea of space is especially relevant to today’s audience. Many have had to accept being confined in one space unwillingly; many have had to confront solitude and delve into the realms of their mental space; many have had to distance themselves from others, both physically and emotionally. This exhibition, with its novel unconventional means of exhibition, forces the viewer to reevaluate what the future of exhibiting art may look like, and whether it should change at all.  Some of the exhibiting artists have shared their views on this possibility, with Shahrouri and Tawfiq advocating for experimentation with alternative online media, El-Taweel expressing confusion, and Salameh rejecting the idea of a ‘new normal’ altogether, insisting that these current means of living should not be accepted as normal. The exhibition is a must-see; it reminds one of the uncertainty of the future and the importance of harboring the present moment.

Spaces is ongoing at Fann A Porter Amman at Manara Arts & Culture through November 30th.
View exhibition catalogue