AMMAN – Connecting the past to the present in our chaotic fast-paced world is not an easy mission. The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts brought to its audience an initiative that put the past in focus and allowed contemporary Jordanian and Arab artists to respond to it. As a culmination of Hiwar Art Club‘s latest workshop: On Art Archives in Jordan, the National Gallery invited a group of young artists to analyze and respond to works of their own choosing from the its permanent collection. What follows is a run-through of the exhibited works:

Viewers interacting with Karina Rbeihat’s work.

The Jordanian artist Karina Rbeihat connected to the forgotten Jordanian artists Nasma Al Nimri. After choosing the latter’s painting A Moment of Hope to intercept, Rbeihat discovered that Al Nimri’s data at the National Gallery was missing. Triggered by her own fear of being a forgotten, Rbeihat decided to bring Al Nimri back to life through digging into her past and reaching out to her husband and sister. Rbeihat’s project turned out to be an alternative semi-artistic memorial.

Viewers interacting with Omnia Sabry’s display.

The second artist is Omnia Sabry, an Egyptian artist who reconceptualized the narratives of a collection of artworks by various artists from the permanent collection including Reham Ghasib, Hani Alqam and Basma Asfour. Through  her installation of the works and her writing of completely made-up narratives, the artist provided fake realities. In this, Sabry was trying to explain how people don’t understand what they see: they believe what they are told. 

Viewers interacting with Dana Abu Khalil’s display.

The Jordanian artist Dana Abu Khalil’s installation was about light and color. Inspired by works from Ufemia Rizk and Fouad Hattar, a raw installation of her own sketches was placed as a response to the chosen work. The missing links in the display make up a puzzle of light and color. 

View of artist Mo’awia Bajis’ display.

Artist Mo’awia Bajis projected his video response to multiple prints by Yasser Dweik on a wall between the prints. After Bajis went through Dweik’s art collection at the National Gallery, he found a recurring composition in the artist’s work, a rectangular one encompassing a circle. Bajis’ video installation was of a circle or a fading loop of spiraling text. The spiraling effect kept viewers from focusing on their reading and instead on following the direction of the words going down a drain.

Al Nabulsi’s work on paper as seen at the National Gallery.

Yasmin Al Nabulsi is a Jordanian artist who responded to the Iraqi artist Shaker Hassan Al Said. Her painting was a semi-psychedelic interpretation of Al Said’s painting. It aimed to decipher the depth of Al Said’s work, especially his notorious One Dimension Theory. Nabulsi’s painting was a watercolor with a palette of pinks and blues on paper. Endless shapes and creatures can be seen melting within each other giving birth to new strange creatures.

Hiba Farhat’s display at the National Gallery.

Another interesting work was by Lebanese filmmaker Hiba Farhat, who responded to The Elephant’s Wife painting by Assad Arabi and Nazih Oweis’s animalistic armor sculpture. The painting and sculpture she chose contain many opposing elements: an elephant and a lady, a master and a slave and an animal versus human. She connected the two opponents in the painting and sculpture through the use of computer generated imagery (CGI)- a first for the National Gallery. In her work, the coexisting characters live in a strange environment. So in her response, one TV screen projected two genderless human bodies inside a metallic forest, and a second screen showcased a purple tiger in the same strange metallic forest. The chosen artworks and her response just leave you in a scary but calming wonder. 

Raya Shanawani’s work displayed under Fahrelnissa’s Before Birth.

Raya Shanawani is a young Jordanian artist who responded to Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Before Birth painting. Shanawani took the name of the painting literally in her response. She used the same color pallet in Zeid’s painting to represent birth and pregnancy, the positive and the negative. 

Sama Shahrouri’s display with Mona Saudi’s Metamorphosis at the National Gallery.

Artist Sama Shahrouri chose an etching by Mona Saudi, a sculptress that Shahrouri always looked up to. She tried to reimagine the etching and translate it into 3D. Then again to a two-dimensional print and yet again to a large sculpture. An interesting translation into many dimensions, which gave it an architectural sense that had light falling into it beautifully.

Khaldoun Hijazin’s painting (left) displayed next to sculpture by Wijdan and paintings by Ali Al Jabri (top) and Ahmed Mustafa (right) at the National Gallery.

Khaldoun Hijazin is another Jordanian artist who was inspired by three different artworks related to the Hurufiyya art movement of the late 20th century by artists Wijdan, Ali Al Jabri and Ahmed Mustafa. The Hurufiyya movement had Arab artists including the Arabic letters into their work. Hijazin was interested and wondering whether the Arabic letter is what gives the artwork it’s nationality or if it commodified the language. His painting is a delicious pop work that you want to eat. It has a vibrant color palette of red, green and white with an array of Arabic letters looking like candy floating around. What is most interesting in the work is its incorporation of a faded Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti miniature in its background. A magnificent modern interpretation and response to the Hurufiyya art movement.

Yusef Audeh’s display at the National Gallery.

Lastly, the Palestinian-American artist Yusef Audeh was inspired by the late artists Ali Al Jabri whose life and death are a bit of a mystery. Al Jabri always incorporated palm trees in his artworks, so Audeh did the same. Under the exhibited painting was Palm Twilight, a love letter. A beautiful hand-written and interesting cargo use letter that goes into wonder, fantasy and homosexuality, which is definitely interesting to see exhibited in the National Gallery in Amman, Jordan. 

Exhibition text wall at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.

Facilitated by Ala Younis, Raed Ibrahim and Khaldoun Hijazin, About Archives in Jordan is diverse. It is interesting having different artists coming from multiple ages, backgrounds, and countries responding to other works by older or forgotten artists. Artists who just like the participants came from different ages, backgrounds, and countries as well. Infusing the old and the new to give birth to fresh ideas and artworks is very important. Which is what the National Gallery is doing for breaking its classical ways of exhibiting and providing a supportive space for new Jordanian and Arab artists. 

The exhibition is ongoing at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts through September 21st.

Read more from Sarah Abu Saad.
Image courtesy of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.